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Toronto queers use Twitter to organize for social change

Members of Queers and Beers don't just talk via tweets, they're regularly meeting in person too

MEETING ONLINE AND OFFLINE. Jaime Woo, who founded the Toronto Twitter group Queers and Beers, says social media is the fastest way to form a group of people who share similar interests. Credit: Sarah Dea photo

Queers and beers has been an age-old model for social events in the gay community, but now, it’s also a group phenomenon sweeping Toronto Twitter users.

Born in June 2009, Twitter group Queers and Beers started as a way to bring together tech-savvy queer folk and their supporters to discuss social issues.

Local public relations entrepreneur Jaime Woo conceived the group in order to harness the power of social media to unite a community.

“It’s about finding people with the same passion as you do and using technology so the queer community can get their message out and define their role in the tech world,” says Woo.

With the fast-paced lifestyle of many Torontonians, it can be difficult to set aside a moment to consider social issues facing the world.

“I think this is a fun way for people to come together and think about good causes,” says Woo.

The group has already had three real-life meet-ups and will hold its fourth this coming Tue, Sep 29 at a backyard barbecue.

Each event takes place in a different space in order to spur different states of mind. The goal of the get-togethers is to stimulate different conversations, connections and to draw out different types of people.

Justin Stayshyn, a Queers and Beers member and emerging social media consultant, says that the group is as important online as offline.

“Twitter is about relationships and conversations. It’s revolutionary to share information with people and knowing them in real life strengthens that connection,” a link, Stayshyn says, that was missing before within the gay community.

The next meet-up will focus on issues surrounding queer homeless youth, a topic that may inspire some members to be proactive and pick a new pet cause, says Woo.

The group is now approximately 25 members strong and gains momentum through word of mouth and wireless waves. Woo says the crowd grows after each event through the flurry of social media messaging.

“There are definite benefits and obstacles to using social media, but in this case it was the fastest way to bring together a group of 20 people who were all passionate about the same thing,” says Woo.

He says he came up with the idea and within a week, the first meet-up was held thanks to the viral nature of Twitter.

As much as people say the internet is killing real-life interaction, others still disagree.

“I often have to battle against this notion that Twitter is about technology for technology’s sake, but it really isn’t,” says Mark Kuznicki, a Toronto-based social media expert and self-proclaimed change agent. “It’s about how technology can be used to make us human again.”

People now have a platform to connect in a way that spans beyond being categorized by their superficial attributes, and they are redefined through shared interests, he says.

While the bar scene continues to thrive, it is not necessarily the easiest place for gay people to find kindred spirits since it is often the luck of the draw.

“The traditional bar scene contains really coarse broad categories that we get slotted within in the community and people are more complicated than that,” says Kuznicki.

Social media, Kuznicki says, helps to break down limiting barriers and allows people to connect around things that they are passionate about, which takes some of the guesswork out of meeting new people.

Twitter is an arena that embraces an open network concept, whereas other social media sites such as Facebook, focus on a pre-existing network of friends. It’s “more about people that you should meet in the future,” says Kuznicki.

A future that Queers and Beers is changing, in 140 characters or less at a time.

For more info, follow the
#queersandbeers discussion on Twitter or join the group’s Facebook Page. The next event is Tue, Sep 29.