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: firstname.lastname@example.org