Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Celebrating Campus Pride

By Kate

A space heater hums away in the corner of an office barely big enough to fit four people, stirring up a walled mosaic of GenderBread posters and a rainbow-embellished Canadian flag. These vibrant, cozy quarters in the Lower Level of SUB house OUTreach the largest LGBTQ* student group on campus and the imaginative force behind the University of Alberta’s first-ever official Pride Week. After sitting down with members Kalyna, Eric and Laura, I’ve learned how great things can stem from humble beginnings.

“My story isn’t super-exciting: I went, I found really good friends, and I just ended up staying,” Eric laughed when talking about how he joined the group.

Like Eric, Kalyna and Laura admitted that they came to OUTreach in the same way: looked-up the group online and went to the weekly meeting in Athabasca Hall—nothing too out of the ordinary. However, they all stayed for the same reason: the community.

After chatting in the OUTreach office, I got a taste of this community when I followed the group to one of their meetings. Although there was no space heater whirring in the corner, Athabasca Hall manifested a different kind of warmth that Tuesday evening: the dark, woody room was lit up by carbonated laughter between a circle of friends framed by subdued, yet engaged conversations around the outside of the room. Instead of being separated by their differences in age, study and background, the atmosphere in Athabasca Hall incubated some seed of similarity. Kalyna explained that the community that grows here acts as a haven from the struggles of hanging out with other groups.

“If you’re hanging out with your straight crowd of friends, you don’t relate to their experiences sometimes and you kind of feel like an outsider. And that makes you wonder ‘what’s wrong with me?’” Laura said.

Providing a safe space for LGBTQ* students has always been a goal of the group, but their plans of action have shifted over time. From their roots as a more political group in the 90’s, they have grown to become a social club on and off campus. Currently boasting over 50 members from both the university and greater Edmonton, the group is now equipped with a greater volunteer force and has established institutional networks: the building blocks to an event as big as Pride Week.

While the group has had similar events in previous years, none have been matched by the scale and quality anticipated for this year’s Pride Week. With the support of the university and community organizations it will be on a league of its own, making OUTreach one of the first student groups in Canada to run such an event.

“To have the university back this as an institutionally-supported and sponsored event is a huge deal because basically it’s saying everyone from the ground-up—essentially everyone from OUTreach to the president of the university—is all a part of this and we’re all pushing this forward,” Kalyna said.

At this year’s Pride Week, “pushing forward” takes the shape of a week full of entertainment and education, with events that range from a pride parade, to a drag show, to a production of the “Coming Out Monologues,” the week is full of events that aim to bring awareness to the challenges still faced by LGBTQ* people on campus and beyond, and will help foster a culture of understanding.

“It would be nice to get people to stop and think and understand that it is not just a theoretical question, not just an abstract concept of ‘oh, someone might get harassed in the bathroom’ but these are actual people struggling on campus,” Laura said.

Pride Week will be taking place March 13 to March 22. For more information about the events taking place and how to get involved, check out

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning


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