Is Ryerson LGBTQ-friendly?

This article is part first of a three-part series by Master of Journalism student Mike Ott on LGBTQ issues on campus and in the city.

When Folio asked me to write about queer issues, I was ecstatic.

As a young gay journalist, I know first-hand how much the queer voice is missing not only in journalism, but in the media as a whole. But then I began to wonder: Is this a problem in Toronto? At Ryerson? In the queer community, this city has the reputation of being among the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly. Could queer issues still be pervasive at Ryerson?

The answer is not a simple yes or no.

No matter how far our movement has come, queer people still face issues every day. Even people in Toronto.

Studies have shown that one in five homeless youth in Toronto identify as queer. Some Torontonians have protested Kathleen Wynne’s new sex-education curriculum, because it teaches same-sex topics. Homophobic graffiti still shows its ugly face consistently around the city. Toronto is a safe place, for the most part, but problems still occur.

Despite this, Ryerson stands proudly as a place where most queer people feel safe. There’s something about Ryerson that is uniquely comforting. Perhaps it’s knowing there are plenty of other people around who identify like you, with the Village right next door; maybe it’s walking down Church Street and seeing rainbow flags hanging in the windows of every business. Whatever the reason, many queer students and faculty believe Ryerson is a safe place.

Kaleena Lee is one of those students. “I think Toronto is a large part of why my sexual orientation hasn’t affected me,” she says. “While I would like to be optimistic that I would be accepted anywhere, I know it’s not usually like that. Toronto is definitely a good thing.”

Lee says that she rarely experiences problems at Ryerson, big or small. “I’m sure back in first year when I’d mention my ex-girlfriend around a few of my profs, they’d be a little surprised, but they took it in stride,” she says. “It’s never really been a problem for me.”

Some of Lee’s classmates feel the same way.

Anna Spencer, a theatre student, says she didn’t come out until after attending Ryerson.

“I was completely confident here,” she says. “I’m from a small town and often close myself off a bit when I return there for visits.”

Journalism professor Kate Barker believes there is something unique about the city as well.

“Toronto is a mecca of lesbian and gay activity. We have the biggest pride [festival] in the world,” she says. “There’s a lot of hope in this city.”

Barker, like me, believes the queer voice is necessary in journalism. “I’ve never been in the closet as a writer,” she says. “I started my journalistic career at Ryerson with a piece called ‘We’re here, we’re queer, but are the dailies used to it?’”

Despite the overwhelmingly positive response, it seems that not everything is great in paradise. While Lee has experienced almost no problems, she did admit to having experienced bi-erasure. That is, her bisexuality is erased to conform to the binarized notion of being straight (if she’s dating a man) or gay (if she’s with a woman).

I myself often face looks from younger students when I hold my boyfriend’s hand on campus.

Furthermore, if one is to look through the comments on many Toronto publications or the Ryerson Confessions Facebook page, they’ll see homophobia hidden behind anonymous comments — a problem that is persistent everywhere on the web.

Despite Ryerson’s equality-driven acceptance at face value, most queer people face micro-aggressions and heteronormativity (intentional or otherwise) that further work to reduce their status and personhood.

Ryerson may be a great place if you’re queer. As with any good things, however, there’s always room for improvement. Our school is not free from homophobia, transphobia, or queer erasure, but I believe the best way to change anything is to write about it.