Learn how students in post-secondary institutions around Calgary stay queer on campus

Learn how students in post-secondary institutions around Calgary stay queer on campus ?tedi media=wp 990b97c89186ddc55e712ab862e1fb95

Written by: Hana Hossain, 2021-22 Saitsa Board of Director

In Calgary, LGBTQ2S+ representation is significant for post-secondary students. Without it, we may feel discouraged by traits that we cannot change, and might not be able to recognize others and their identities that differ from our own. Visibility, especially within the LGBTQ2S+ community, and especially in post-secondary, shows people you can be who you are while being successful as a student. Many schools across Calgary support their LGBTQ2S+ community with student-led clubs. 

I talked to the student leaders of the Pride clubs of Bow Valley College, University of Calgary, and SAIT to dig deeper into what having these clubs present on campus means to them and the student population. 

I started out talking to members of the Students’ Association of Bow Valley College (SABVC) Pride Club: Austin Deck, the President, and Jamie Pinca, the Secretary. Having a pride club on their college campus means a lot.

Jamie originally joined the club to find a community of other queer people. “The club is focused on educating each other on LGBTQ+ issues and accessibility. I was really looking for genuine community discussion.“

Community is also at the heart of Austin’s reason for engaging in the pride club on his campus. He says he was inspired by how the club quickly made a name for itself at Bow Valley College.”My goal was to create a community that was sustainable and a place for students to go to and feel safe. It has blossomed into a beautiful space.”

Austin also highlighted the importance of visibility on campus, especially for the college’s diverse student population. “We are taking steps to align with social causes and letting people know that this is important to us at BVC. That we are including this into our community, especially as we have one of the highest ratios of international students in the country. Having the Pride Club really sets the precedent that this is something we value.”

SABVC Pride club also champions intersectionality. For Jamie, growing up queer and Filipino in the catholic church and at school, they say they love having the safe space their pride club provides where they can hear and learn from other people’s stories and backgrounds.

For Austin, that experience of intersectionality is an opportunity to learn and grow as a queer student. “I think it provides a place for us to see a different perspective of the queer community. As a queer person, you often gravitate towards other queer people who are like you and share that identity. You get to see perspectives of people within the community with different identities. By celebrating our differences, we’re showing our members that they are not alone, but that they are also unique.” 

My next destination on my tour brought me to my home campus at SAIT. In 2020, I helped create the Saitsa LGBTQ+ Club with Dawson Thomas, president of the club and also a good friend.

“The club has taken a turn of growth, and I’m really excited about where it will grow with our new team,” Dawson says. “Having the club means networking, collaboration, community, and, honestly, friendship. It means so much to me that I could have the opportunity to make this club because of that. When I found out Saitsa did not have a pride club, it was shocking because I believe that these clubs are fundamental for the campus. It means a sense of belonging and family.”

While the inspiration to start the pride club came from one not existing, Dawson soon found he faced the challenge of fostering community in the online world we were all living in at the onset of the pandemic. How would we make friends and find this sense of community when we couldn’t gather?

Fortunately, even if we had limited resources since we were fully virtual, we could work around this. We held virtual meetings every week for our members. This ranged from virtual game nights, movie nights, and even a virtual paint night. Through our first year, Dawson and I strived to keep members engaged, even if it was difficult.

From my perspective in student leadership within the pride club, the pandemic did make it very hard for everyone to make friends and function within post-secondary. Still, for communities like the LGBTQ+ community, it made it even harder. Through getting to know a lot of my club members' stories, many of them said they felt alienated in the past for being LGBTQ2S+ and, with limited social interaction in the pandemic, it made it significantly more complicated. Having the presence of the pride club on campus, whether virtual or in-person, let the student population know we were there to support.

I ended my tour at the University of Calgary, where I spoke with Sabrina Singh, president of the Haskayne School of Business’s Business Pride Club (BPC). Part of what they do as a club is connect students with business firms and corporations with diverse networks to help them grow their career. BPC is Haskayne’s first LGBTQ+ club. The premise is to foster an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals at the University of Calgary. They host a wide range of supports, professional networking events, and educational events like workshops, socials, drag shows.

As the club president, Sabrina says she strives to help students be who they are and have fun while also being successful. “I joined because I was fortunate to meet firms who accepted me while being my authentic self, but for a lot of students, that’s not the case. So many of these students aren’t aware of these resources and companies. I wanted to make students aware that there are firms waiting for you who will happily take you for who you are.”

“We want to let people know we are more than just rainbows. We can be professional and also be ourselves, and we don’t have to hide it. You can be proud and in business.” 

We see similar themes across all three schools clubs, but BPC stands out with its aim and uniqueness. For Sabrina, the club means representation, and it means enough to make you feel seen, and it means a sense of community. “My favourite part is the difference we get to make, and we are very nontraditional and ambitious; we are proud, and everyone in the club wants to be there. When you think of people in business, you think of people in suits, but we have the ability to have that as well as authenticity and drag shows.”

“I am from India, and I moved to Calgary three years ago. I came from a country where I could not openly be myself. BPC was only founded a year before I moved here. To move to Canada and to see this representation of what I had to repress for so long is what made me realize I had to make a difference for others too and take this role. I am a queer immigrant person of colour, so if I can empower someone else, why not?”

The message of intersectionality in pride clubs is one of the most important factors, especially considering how diverse Calgary’s post-secondary institutions are.

Overall, these clubs have greatly impacted their membership, and as I work with all of them, I know they are not going anywhere. The presence of a pride club on campus is fundamental for supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion. These pride clubs demonstrate just how much representation matters on campuses across the city.

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