Pride Centre not waiting for better
Rick Mercer said it best: “300 kids is 300 too many.”
The political satirist and gay Canadian television icon’s recent rant refers to the heartbreaking reality that young people are bullied because of their sexual orientation.
He said about 300 Canadian youths per year decide to take their own lives after being bullied.
Joshua Cadegan-Syms, administrator at the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University Pride Centre, agrees Canadians can’t afford to take a backseat when it comes to ending the prejudice.
“We can’t take the position of it gets better, we need it to be better now,” said Cadegan-Syms, a second-year cellular and molecular biology student at Mount Royal.
On any given school day students can be found at the Pride Centre, located on Wyckham House’s second floor. It offers a casual space for any student — gay or straight — to relax, socialize with volunteers and seek advice from fellow students.
Lucas Hill, 20, also volunteers with the centre. Hill, a third-year English major, said he believes Mount Royal is a positive and supportive place for anyone, and enjoys his weekly volunteering hours there.
“In general, being a gay student at MRU, I’d say it’s great,” Hill said. “But I guess you have to take into context my background.”
Growing up in Castor, Alta., Hill jokingly called himself “the village homo,” citing the lack of sexual diversity in the town of less than 1,000 people.
He came out at the age of 13, but said he wasn’t really bullied until he moved to Calgary in Grade 10.
“I’m not saying it was bad,” Hill said. “I can only think of two or three instances where anything was said.”
Last year, Hill took part in Mount Royal’s Gender Bender Drag Queen show during pride week. As Lady Del La Sol, he graced the stage in full drag.
“It was two pairs of little boy underwear, two pairs of pantyhose, tuck everything all up behind, wear a dress, wear high heels, it took an hour to get all my makeup on. It’s not easy being a woman, it’s a difficult process,” he said with a laugh.
The Pride Centre deals with issues relating to gender and sexuality, and Cadegan-Syms said the most important service they offer is peer-to-peer counseling.
He said that the centre also offers advice on relationships, safe sex and coming out. If a student brings an issue to the centre that the volunteers don’t have the tools to deal with, a referral program gives them access to the resources they need.
Though the majority of the centre volunteers are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), Cadegan-Syms said about a quarter of them are heterosexual.
“I always say that it’s not just a place for LGBT students,” Cadegan-Syms said, “It’s a place for any sort of student.”
David Pham, 22, spends time in the Pride Centre because he enjoys being around positive people. Although Pham himself is straight, he recalls being labeled a “fag lover” in high school because his best friend is gay.
“It was (like I was) just as bad as he was. I said to them, ‘Why do you guys hate gay people so much? Their actions do not directly affect your life personally, so why do you care?’ My cousin’s gay, two of my best friends are gay, and it’s never affected me whatsoever.”
“I’m here for the positive energy,” said Pham, a third-year psychology student. “I’ve never had any issues with gay people.
“The reason why I hang out here is that I have two best friends that are gay, and one of them goes to Mount Royal. He volunteers here.”
The LGBT community at MRU isn’t limited to students.
The Positive Space committee, which focuses on providing an environment free of discrimination and harassment, is typically made up of faculty and staff members, but welcomes anyone.
Department of justice studies associate professor Scharie Tavcer is a member of Positive Space. Tavcer said she thinks the committee has brought more awareness to issues of diversity and the need to discuss those challenges openly in the classroom and elsewhere.
The group hosts lecture series, social engagements and promotion campaigns, and distributes a newsletter for the general committee membership.
“Regardless that we are an academic facility, there are still people here who believe that gay, bi, lesbian, trans is wrong,” Tavcer said. “(That) there’s something wrong with it, there’s something disgusting about it, that’s it’s immoral. Just because we are all academics doesn’t mean we all think the same.”
Tavcer said that as the years have progressed, Positive Space has become more involved with administrative issues such as policy.
“I think Positive Space has allowed people to feel more safe to have conversations about those things,” she said. “To feel more safe about being more open in their work environment, and to have conversations with people who feel the opposite to discuss why it is offensive to use the word fag, why it is offensive to say ‘you’re going to burn in hell.’”
Although all students interviewed said MRU is a positive and open environment, that doesn’t mean it is perfect. Cadegan-Syms sees the already positive experience as an opportunity for the community to grow.
“I think we need to be even more present at the school,” he said. “I think it needs to be something the students don’t have to go and find because it’s something they would just know about.”