Edmonton Queer History Project

Celebrating the People, Places, and Events that built the Queer Community in Edmonton

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Places: The SIDERITE Bulletin Board, Lister Hall, University of Alberta

In celebration of Pride Week at the University of Alberta, Jeff Lynch sent in this story about the SIDERITE bulletin board at Lister Hall, the largest residence at the University of Alberta:

I arrived in Edmonton in 1999 to Lister Hall on the U of A campus, ready to “be the person my parents wanted me to be”… an engineer or commerce major who would make the family proud. By 2001, I had changed my major to education with a music minor, had come to terms with the fact that I was gay, and understood I would never have the life my parents had dreamed I would.

When I told them ‘the news’, I was told to hide it, and to be weary of how because of my ‘choice’ I would never be employable, not to mention live eternally miserable (I’m paraphrasing, of course). Not living at home, however, allowed me to develop into a strong, confident and proud person, unafraid of the ‘consequences’ of my ‘choices’ that my parents had so sternly warned me about.

In the early 2000’s, there were a surge of gay rights movements gaining traction, a plethora of gay characters being portrayed on TV and in movies, but more importantly, the sense of community amongst the LGBTQ youth was growing – especially on campus where the younger generation were generally more accepting of differences than society as a whole.

In the dorms, there was an inoccuous glass case in the depths of the underground tunnels connecting the towers together. It was the SIDERITE board; a small window of information adorned with rainbow triangle stickers, and with a meeting time scheduled for one Wednesday each month. Knowing I was gay, but not knowing what to do about it (remember; this was the days of ICQ and grindr was a decade away from existing), I decided I had nothing to lose.

When I showed up to the Wednesday meeting, a few other people there were eager to welcome me into their intimate group. Gradually, as I came more and more comfortable with myself, I changed from a passive, sit-on-the-sidelines person without a community, to a huge LGBTQ advocate on campus. Using that same SIDERITE bulletin board, I would help to change messages of tolerance hidden in a small, dark tunnel, to messages of acceptance and welcoming via campus-wide events (such as The Day of Silence).

I met some of my best friends that I have to this day during those years. Our friendships may have been forged out of necessity, but they lasted because of our shared values of accepting people for who they are coming above all superficial and ignorant views. Challenging peoples’ assumptions and educating them is one of the most powerful and difficult acts, but it is worth it in the end.

One of the people who helped me through learning how to enact that change, and who stood beside me when things got tough will be the best man at my wedding this fall… where my parents will proudly walk me down the aisle.

What were some of the safe spaces that you used to frequent? Share your story: edmontonqueerhistoryproject@gmail.com


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Orlando Books (1993-2002)


Orlando Books by Jacqueline Dumas

Orlando Books was an activist, progressive bookstore on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue from 1993 to the end of 2002.

When I opened Orlando I was just coming out as lesbian; the store was part of that coming-out process. I wasn’t too interested in the bar scene and wanted to create an alternative space where everyone in the community would feel welcome: a bright, airy open space that carried books I hadn’t been able to find in other bookstores at the time: progressive political books; feminist books; poetry; a good selection of international literature; books from small, independent presses – and books by queer writers, of course.

During our tenure, the bookstore hosted hundreds of readings for writers from across the country – among them, Daphne Marlatt, Dionne Brand, Gail Scott, Nicole Brossard, Shani Mootoo, Patricia Nell Warren, Paula Gunn Allen, Ivan Coyote, and Taste This. The store hosted musical events and publicized happenings of interest to the queer community. We sold tickets for events outside the bookstore – for EVM concerts, for Womonspace dances, the Pride dances – and for the Weird Sisters, Jennifer Berezan (who also appeared in our store on several occasions). We promoted the appearance in Edmonton of Suzanne Westenhoefer, the first openly gay comedian to appear on television, and the legendary singer/songwriter Chris Williamson. We took part in the annual Pride Parade and the Silly Summer Parade on Whyte Avenue. As part of our mandate to support social justice issues we collected money for the Delwin Vriend and Ms. T. legal challenges.

Orlando’s first location was between 108th and 109th streets, but we moved to 101st Street to escape the rising rents west of the tracks. Above the bookstore proper we opened The Room for Change where we held our readings and made the space available to groups in the community whose goals we shared: theatre workshops, singer/songwriters, political activists, spiritual gatherings. The Rainbow Business Association met there for a time.

After an incident with a local high school a group of educators and myself decided that queer students needed more support within the system. We authored a booklet that was eventually published and distributed by the Alberta Teachers’ Association called Safe and Caring Schools for Lesbian and Gay Youth: A Guide for Teachers.

There were challenges. In those days certain titles – primarily leather books from the US – were routinely stopped at the border, and when that happened our entire shipment of books would be stopped, which meant that dozens of titles (including customers’ special orders) could be held up for months because of one title, and by the time the books finally did arrive they were usually damaged.

In a way, the store became a gay bookstore by default. As Orlando became more and more active around gay issues, it became marginalized. The media would call to ask my opinion about current gay issues; however they never called about the weekly literary events. The Edmonton Journal stopped including our titles in the bestseller list. And although Orlando was not strictly a queer bookstore, in the minds of some, the fact that I was openly lesbian and outspoken came to define the bookstore itself. A few closeted people I met outside the store confessed they did not shop there for fear of being seen. And despite the fact that we probably had the best selection of progressive books in the city, a number of members of the political left stopped shopping at Orlando, Even nowadays when I mention which store I owned in Edmonton, the dismissive response is often, “oh yeah, the gay one.” When I hear that, I know that person never set foot in the store.

Mostly as a result of drastic changes in the book industry, Orlando Books closed in the late fall of 2002,