After years of trying to obtain student funding, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans people of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) has successfully acquired a levy of $0.25 per semester. A majority of students voted in favour of the levy with 1,627 voting yes, and 1,119 voting no. There were 1,691 abstentions.
The referendum ran concurrently with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections’ voting period from March 22 to 24.
“To me, the referendum passing is an indicator of an overall improvement in the environment at U of T,” said Nathan Gibson, LGBTOUT drop-in centre director. “To be a queer student on campus and to have the MAIN [sic] queer organization on campus be a levied service group is such a comfort,” he added.
According to Gibson, the funds will be used to diversify programming to better serve the LGBTQ+ community. “It means that our events won’t perpetuate the rampant glorification of white, cis, party culture that we’ve tended toward in the past,” Gibson said. “It means we can start to regain the trust of intersectionally marginalized queer folks who have not felt represented or even welcome in this community for far too long.”
Gibson also suggested that the levy would allow LGBTOUT to subsidize students looking to attend conferences that they would otherwise not be able to, in an effort to support queer students in their equity work.
Despite passing the levy, the funds will not be immediately tied to inflation; the second referendum question that would have secured this indexation failed. There were 1,612 votes against the question, 1,328 in favour, and 1,497 abstentions.
“In all honesty I think the failure of the second question was mostly a result of a lack of understanding,” said Gibson, adding that the question could have been clearer and that the campaign could have better emphasized its importance.
The question read “Do you authorize the Board of Directors of the UTSU to request annual cost-of-living increases, based on December Ontario CPI to the designated LGBTOUT portion of the fee?”
“I [don’t] blame anyone for not knowing [the meaning of the question], I probably wouldn’t have if I weren’t working on the campaign,” Gibson said.
He does not believe that the failure of the second question reflects the overall attitude towards the levy increase.
Gibson said that he will likely investigate the processes by which such a change may come about for future years. “[The] most important thing is that the levy itself passed, the increase can happen at a later date,” Gibson said.
If a campaign to tie the levy to inflation were to run in the future, Gibson believes it will be easier to explain because it will the main focus of the campaign “[I hope] that the coming years will bring a further push toward equity and inclusivity on our campus and so when we do attempt to tie the levy to inflation, it will have a better chance at passing,” he said.
The passing of the referendum marks the first time in LGBTOUT’s 47-year history that the club will be levied. UTSU members at the St. George campus will pay the refundable levy in the same way that they fund other UTSU levy groups, such as Bike Chain and Downtown Legal Services.
LGBTOUT has been active since 1969. The club held four referenda between 1999 and 2004 in an attempt to become a levied service group. All attempts were unsuccessful.
In 1999, the response to the campaign was violent and homophobic, prompting U of T to create the Office of LGBTQ Resources and Programs, a forerunner to the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office.
“I’m really happy to see our campus becoming a more welcoming space for queer students and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish in the coming years!” Gibson said.