Out on campus

Insight into seven students’ experiences of being queer at Queen’s 

LGBTQ+ students describe claiming space on campus.
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When LGBTQ+ students first arrive on campus, the low visibility of the queer community can be isolating. 

The Journal spoke to seven students who identify as LGBTQ+ about building communities, developing supports, and addressing homophobia and transphobia in the academic setting. They describe some of the challenges of being “out” at Queen’s. 

“You come to Queen’s and everybody looks the same, everybody acts the same, everybody likes the same things. And I’m generalizing, of course,” Alex Ciro Barber, ArtSci ’22, said. “But it really feels [like] you can’t be authentic. It feels like [there’s] quite a bit of pressure to fit in with what everybody else is doing.”

Coming from Vancouver to Kingston, Barber found that he had trouble finding a visible queer community. 

Barber, who identifies as pansexual, doesn’t feel comfortable dressing as flamboyantly as he would like when he is in Kingston. He’s noticed the lack of visible support in comparison to Vancouver, where pride flags are a common fixture. 

“It felt like a step back,” Barber said.

Coming out

Sydney Gilchrist, ArtSci ’17, told The Journal her first few years at Queen’s were isolating, saying she didn’t see representation on campus.

She said a turning point for her was volunteering as a Gael during Orientation Week in 2015. One of Gilchrist’s frosh pulled her aside before coming out to her as queer. Gilchrist, who also identifies as queer, took the opportunity to also come out to her frosh.

“I think this made her introduction to Queen’s a lot more inclusive than it otherwise would have been,” Gilchrist said. She was not yet out to many of her friends at the time, so this experience helped both students affirm their identities. 

Meanwhile, Barber hasn’t come out to all of his peers. Hearing those around him use homophobic slurs and push jokes too far keeps Barber from sharing his identity with everyone in his life. 

“There’s just a couple people that throw around some words that they don’t think mean anything,” Barber said. “I know that the people that do say those words would probably be fine with me being [pansexual], but it’s a barrier that I can’t seem to want to cross.”

Academics

Transgender and non-binary students on campus report challenges in navigating the process of disclosing their preferred names in the academic setting.   

Queen’s students can change their preferred name in SOLUS, but some students report being unaware of this feature. When asked about this option, E.C. Fletcher, ArtSci ‘21—who identifies as non-binary and goes by their surname—told The Journal they were disappointed they hadn’t known about it earlier. 

For other students who identify as queer, the difficulty arises from administrative issues. Fred Hooke, ArtSci ’21, is also a non-binary student. They submitted their preferred name on SOLUS before they arrived on campus. 

However, Hooke found the implementation of preferred names is inconsistent. 

“Theoretically, [professors] are meant to get the preferred name, and not your dead name, which is the name generally you’re given at birth,” Hooke said, “But I found that that doesn’t always happen.”

According to Hooke, this can cause confusion for trans students in the classroom setting since some professors receive one name, while others may receive another. 

“Class lists may [be] generated through the Faculty Centre or in OnQ and use student information provided by the Office of the University Registrar (OUR),” The University wrote in a statement. “These lists contain the preferred name for each student as it is displayed in their individual Student Centre on SOLUS. Class lists generated through ad hoc queries created outside of the OUR may be using name information from a data field other than preferred name.”

Currently, disclosing pronouns is up to the individual student. Hooke said that standardizing the system would make it less stressful for transgender and non-binary students, who can feel singled out. 

“Now that they know that I’m not [cisgender], how’s that going to affect the way that I perform in this class?” Hooke said. “How’s that going to affect the way they treat me? That’s not something that you should have to worry about.” 

Taylor Magee, ArtSci ’21, emphasized the importance of Positive Space training to build a more inclusive environment. Positive Space is a program run by the Queen’s Human Rights Office, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), and the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP), and provides knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community and the discrimination that individuals may face. 

While many groups on campus already receive this training, Magee believes it should be more widespread, including within AMS services and for University faculty and employees. 

Needing support

This past fall, a racist and homophobic incident in Chown Hall, which prompted a police investigation, left lingering impacts on the LGBTQ+ community. 

Magee emphasized that although major incidents can incite discussion and increase support, the negative impact of the incident still falls on the most vulnerable members of the community. 

In the aftermath of this incident, the University raised both the Métis flag and the pride flag in support of the LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities. The University also released statements condemning the behaviour. 

However, some LGBTQ+ students, like Hooke, say they wish that support and recognition from Queen’s was proactive, not reactive. “I think that we forget that marginalized communities don’t just need support when things are bad,” Hooke said. 

While the University provides a queer-positive resource list, including many groups on campus, it lists the Queen’s Pride Project, which hasn’t been active since 2017. 

These clubs offer the majority of the support and social activities for the LGBTQ+ community at Queen’s. Sometimes, these clubs have to provide the mental health support that some queer students need. 

When Poole sought queer-specific support from the Peer Support Centre (PSC), she was asked if she had heard of Get Real Queen’s. 

Get Real staff aren’t trained to provide students with support like PSC staffers are.

Poole is also one of the co-chairs of Get Real Queen’s—the PSC’s advice was to seek support from the club that she manages.

While this advice would have been helpful to other students, Poole is worried these clubs sometimes stand in for trained volunteers or knowledgeable counsellors. 

“The club itself is more about creating a safe environment, creating friendships and connections,” Magee said, “rather than specifically being there as a mental support for individuals because we aren’t trained to do that and don’t want to be put in that role and give the wrong advice.” 

The PSC plans to implement an initiative to provide support geared towards LGBTQ+ students.

Making a difference

Poole and Magee acknowledge activism can be intimidating for students, so as co-chairs of Get Real, they focus on community building. 

“I think the activism we do mostly is in terms of existing and taking up that space and being present,” Poole said. 

Their events are centred around the philosophy of claiming space: Queer Prom, coffeehouse performances, and drag shows are all focused on carving out a place for LGBTQ+ identities to thrive on campus. 

At one of Get Real’s coffeehouse events this February before Reading Week, Hooke and Poole sang a version of Edith Piaf’s classic song “La Vie en Rose.” They “queered” the lyrics to this song in their performance, changing the words to make it seem like the song was about a woman. 

“I [usually] do not feel comfortable singing in front of people, but that was fine,” Poole said. “It was a safe space.”

Get Real’s coffeehouse event was tucked away on the third floor of the JDUC to protect the students, as they may have been disclosing vulnerable content. Through these events, Get Real is navigating the delicate balance between making sure events are visible and accessible and protecting LGBTQ+ students. 

Fletcher emphasized that to increase visibility without compromising LGBTQ+ safety, there needs to be collaboration with allies and people outside the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I know the queer community is willing to reach out and be more open and accepting [to] more people,” Fletcher said. “We just need that same level of respect and willingness to learn.”

Magee seemed to agree. “Education is power, and diversity is power. We have the ability to utilize both of those in our community,” she said, “I think we need to do more.”

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