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The Breakdown: LGBTOUT’s 50th anniversary

The history of Canada’s oldest LGBTQ+ student organization
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STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY
STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) celebrated its 50th anniversary on October 24. Since its inception in 1969, the organization has undergone several major transformations, and is continuously evolving.

Yet another major transformation may be underway as the club contends with the effects of the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

History of LGBTOUT

Fifty years ago, in mid-October, an ad was put out in The Varsity seeking “anyone interested in discussing the establishment of a student homophile association.” By October 24, a small group of students had congregated and founded what was then called the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA). Of the students present at the UTHA’s first meeting, only one was a woman. The majority of the other attendees were white, cisgender men.

During this time, it was still common for people to be fired from the workplace because of their sexual orientation. Many were also targeted on campus for their sexuality. In accordance with this context, the UTHA primarily worked toward promoting equality in professional spaces.

By 1984, the UTHA had renamed itself as the Gays and Lesbians at U of T. Although the club’s new name fostered a more inclusive environment, students in the LGBTQ+ community still faced many of the same challenges. During the club’s Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, St. Michael’s College refused to play Michael, a Gay Son, a movie that follows a young man’s decision to come out to his parents and his experiences participating in an LGBTQ+ peer support group.

In 1998, the organization finally settled on its current name: LGBTOUT.

LGBTOUT’s current role

LGBTOUT has since expanded its reach at the University of Toronto. Today, it holds drop-in sessions on a daily basis where students can find community or confide in volunteers for peer support. The organization also holds a number of events throughout the year, including open mic nights, arts and crafts socials, and drag shows. LGBTOUT further works alongside the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office to bring Queer Orientation to the U of T community.

LGBTOUT’s current mission aims to promote awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, as well as advocate for the fair treatment of LGBTQ+ students. The incumbent executive team has also extended LGBTOUT’s goals to support other equity-seeking organizations. Administrative Director Cheryl Quan wrote to The Varsity, “LGBTOUT is an inherently political organization and as such we should not shy away from affirming our support for other marginalized communities and their causes.” 

In the wake of the SCI

Since being elected to office in 2018, Premier Doug Ford has introduced several reforms that affect postsecondary education. A cornerstone policy is the SCI, which allows students to opt out of paying incidental fees for student groups that are considered “non-essential” under the government’s framework.

For the fall 2019 term, 25 per cent of students opted out of LGBTOUT’s $0.50 levy. This means that the club will receive significantly less funding than in past years.

Quan recounted, “After 17 years of fighting and four failed referenda, 2016 was the year things finally changed, and the 2016-2017 academic year was the first time we actually had sufficient funds with which to run events and programming.”

The SCI has been enacted just three years after LGBTOUT first raised their levy. “Now, with the introduction of the SCI and, of course, the rise of right-wing hate groups at UofT and in Toronto, our work and safety are in jeopardy now more than ever,” wrote Quan.

Although LGBTOUT may be in a more financially vulnerable position, it is still confident that it will be able to continue offering great programming for the U of T community.