Volume 94, Issue 42

Tuesday, November 14, 2000


Homophobia alive and well in society

Coming out difficult at Western

Coming out difficult at Western

By Jowita Bydlowska
Gazette Staff

Coming out at Western might be harder than you think, as there is currently no support group for homosexuals on campus.

It is a bit unnatural for a respected post-secondary institution such as Western not to have a support group for one of its minorities, said Debbie Lee, a Safe City Project co-ordinator at the Homosexual and Lesbian organization in London.

For almost two years, Western has not had a support group for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. UWOut, a former support group, perished in 1998. Western needs to improve its support services to homosexual students and staff in order to come up to par with other schools, Lee said.

Gay students at Western do not feel they are recognized, as there are almost no resources or community services and no youth organizations are available to turn to for support, she said.

"Just recently UWO hosted a conference for a Christian group which claims gays, lesbians and bisexuals are not right in God's eyes, that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible. Is it safe to come out at UWO campus, then?" Lee asked, of the recent visit of the Promise Keepers to Western.

Dino Paoletti, program co-ordinator of lesbian, gay and bisexual programs at Central Toronto Youth Services, agreed with Lee, saying schools across Canada refuse to acknowledge the lesbian, gay and bisexual students and their need to be treated differently and with respect. "There is an active refusal to provide inclusion of references. Homosexual youth is ignored in educational systems."

Paoletti, who once attended Western, said there has never been official recognition on the campus; no initiative from the student body or administration. He suggested Western should use well developed support programs like ones already in place at the universities of Toronto, York and Waterloo as references.

Waterloo has a phone line which can be accessed by homosexual students who are in need of references and/or support. The Gays and Lesbians of Waterloo Peer Support Group (GLOW) offers the support phone line and two discussion groups, one for students who are just coming out and one for declared gays and lesbians.

Nigel Flear, a GLOW co-ordinator, said it is important to start small and then gain student and staff support. Counselling and social and support groups are a part of resources for homosexual students on campus, he said.

Flear, a former Western student, explained clubs such as UWOut cease to exist because they are formed by students themselves and once the students leave the university, clubs are in danger of ceasing as well.

Alexa Duggan, who was the president for UWOut for two years, said while UWOut was started in 1992, she asked for the group to be dissolved in 1998 because interest in becoming UWOut executive seemed to have disappeared. She said she felt the atmosphere at Western was hostile and club members were feeling burned-out, adding women in particular felt a lack of support.

Duggan said it is a long process to get a club started at Western because of bureaucratic practices on campus. She said often students get sent from administration to the students' council, back to administration and then on to the students' council again.

Bella Lewkowicz, the University Students' Council Pride commissioner, said there is a proposal for a new club on campus, Western Pride, which will act as a social support network. "It is a social organization geared towards creating a safe space for all students, not necessarily for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered students. It is for straight and curious people also. It's a place where you can escape the daily reminders and political and personal opinions on sexual orientation."

USC VP-campus issues, Andrea Boulay, confirmed the proposal for the new club will be put to the Clubs Policy Committee at their meeting tonight.

Currently, Western's Student Development Centre offers various services from homosexual students, Lewkowicz said.

A peer support counselling program has been offered since the 1989/1990 school year, said Kathryn Dance, a psychologist at the SDC. The program, provides an opportunity for one-to-one peer support. Counselling is also offered for family and friends of students just coming out, Dance said.

Lewkowicz said she has not received any requests from students for more support from the school.

"There is a big need for student queer space on campus. We have a room for retail space but not for queer students?" Duggan questioned. "People believe Pride Library is enough queer space. But there should be a space run by students, especially women," she said.

It is hard enough for people to come out in a first place, Flear said. The fear is pervasive because students believe they have nothing to gain and everything to lose, if people know they are gay. "However a support group would go a long way to fight fear and misunderstanding," he said. "It creates sense of community on campus."

Lewkowicz said Western has a very welcoming quality but with the Western stereotype, students are discouraged from coming forward. "Western is willing to foster a positive environment and now we're finding people who really want to get involved."

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