PlayStation Portable
3 min

Public Service Pride

very now and then I get a Facebook event invite from a group called Women in the City.

I finally answered the call to an event called Public Service Pride — PSP. Sounds official if you say the acronym.

PSP is held every third Thursday of the month in the Village's The Buzz restaurant. There are free hors d'oeuvres. And they're very good.

As I walked in, I felt a bit confused. I was expecting people mingling and the sound of laughter (yes, as in a movie scene). 

The restaurant wasn't very busy and I stood at the front, waiting for the waiter to tell me I had gotten the time and/or place wrong. Why not? It wouldn't be my first time.

Instead, a middle-aged civil servant approached me with a broad smile and a handshake. "Welcome. Is this your first time to PSP?"

I had no idea what she was saying to me. I hadn't memorized the acronym. A friendly tease: I guess the love of jargon and use of acronyms must be second nature to civil servants. 

Heather Oxman is a lesbian working for the government. She invites me to
her table and talks very openly about the group, giving me a short
history and her impressions.

My lovely acquaintance, Heather Oxman. 

She tells me Women in the City and the PSP are two separate entities. The reason for my misunderstanding is because the organizer behind both is the same woman: Sarah Evans.

About 30 to 50 people come out to PSP; this week is unusually slow. "It's supposed to be a networking event," she tells me. "It's more of a professional crowd." I am curious.

I ask her if this a place people come to meet or make friendships? 

No, Tapas Thursdays at The Buzz is not a pickup bar. Oxman comes to meet other LGBTQ government workers but hasn't made any friendships; "acquaintances, yes," she stresses on the word. As I wait for more PSP members to arrive, I ask Oxman what she thinks about Ottawa's Village. Does it have presence? Do her co-workers who aren't gay even know it exists in Ottawa? 

Calmly, gracefully, Oxman reminds me that Ottawa's gay community is vibrant, with a history of activism, diversity and multiculturalism. "Coming out in the '60s and '70s was huge," declares the out-and-proud civil servant.

While I am enchanted by her person, I continue to probe: but I mean, don't you think our community needs to be more visible? Not just in the eyes of others, but for the community itself?

Her food arrives and she takes a moment to ponder what I've said. She's been in and out of Ottawa three times, and with each return, it's become harder to make friends.

"Ottawa is a rough town in the sense that it doesn't lend itself to making friends easily because you already have to be part of a crowd."

Well, what bigger, more unifying crowd could you wish for as a young, newly out queer tourist or immigrant than that of a village? 

Oxman then says something that really speaks to me. Even within larger groups, there are subgroups, and it's not easy to cross that line and enter meaningful relationship with others.  

My eyes open a little wider. The metaphor is clear — our Village reflects PSP in many ways.

PSP regulars: Kaitlin, Emily, Christina and Heather.

Quietly sitting at the bar are four friends, Kaitlin, Emily, Christina and Heather. They're all charming, funny and witty. They make a few inside jokes and I can tell they're having a good time. 

"We've been coming here for two or three years," says Emily. "Sometimes we network," continues Christina. "But rarely."

They know they're a group, the kind Oxman has a hard time breaking into. "If anyone came to talk to us, of course we'd talk. I guess it's not easy, but there's nothing to stop you either," Christina adds. 

I leave the girls at the bar and sit with Sarah Evans. She's been organizing PSP and Women in the City since 2006/2007. I assume right away that civil servants only talk in fiscal government years. Anywhere between April 1, 2006, and March 31, 2007. I love it.

She tells me much the same things I'd heard already, though stressing the fact that Women in the City is a more social, laid-back environment where people are mingling and generally there to make friends or date. Her next event will be posted on their Facebook page. The only other way to be in the know is to email ottawawomen@yahoo.ca and ask to be added to the mailing list.

I'm looking forward to some good times at the next Pool Night at MacLaren's on Elgin.

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