Unlike other Canadian city centres, Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) does not have a meeting space, bar or formal gathering place for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Now, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) student advocates are reigniting a call for one.
In a recent post on Instagram, the TRU Student Union (TRUSU) Pride Club communicated the ongoing need for a LGBTQ2S+ gathering place on TRU’s campus where students and Kamloops residents could meet. In the spring of 2021, the club petitioned the university to help create a dedicated Pride centre in an attempt to restart conversations that had been put on hold at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pride Club president Eliana Baboiu spoke to The Wren about the impact a lack of dedicated gathering space has had on the local queer community and the struggle she and the Pride Club have endured while working to remedy LGBTQ2S+ equity issues on campus.
Baboiu says that after moving to Kamloops to study nursing, she found the lack of queer venue space confronting. Although LGBTQ2S+ community members and allies are welcome to visit and seek support at existing organizations in Kamloops like Interior Community Service (ICS) and are celebrated yearly at Kamloops’ Pride week, a Pride centre on TRU’s campus would act as Kamloops’ sole queer venue space.
Baboiu explains that “having a permanent Pride centre is important so that 2SLGBTQ+ students know that there is a place they are welcome. Students need a permanent place to meet … to get to know fellow 2SLGBTQ+ people,” where they can find support and further understand aspects of themselves possibly hidden because of lack of community.
Kamloops LGBTQ2S+ student advocates call for action
In 2017, TRUSU Pride Club executives sent a proposal to TRU administration that outlined the need for a Pride centre on campus. Baboiu says club executives at the time did end up meeting with administration, but communication was severed after the student leaders graduated.
Baboiu decided to petition the university for a centre again in 2021. She says learning about how social stigma impacts mental and physical health in nursing school encouraged her to speak up.
Through the process of petitioning the university and conversations with university staff, Baboiu learned plans to set up a Pride centre had been tabled because of the pandemic. Baboiu feels that after a certain point, “[COVID-19] was certainly used as an excuse as to why [meetings] were continually delayed.”
She says the continued use of COVID as an “excuse” not to have meetings is puzzling because, in September 2021, students returned to campus at full capacity and the Pride Club, along with other TRUSU clubs, was given the green light to meet in person.
After returning to campus in 2021, TRU’s wellness centre offered the Pride Club a temporary space to meet while members waited to hear back about plans for a permanent space. Baboiu says attendance quickly grew at meetings, and club organizers were forced to look for a larger venue.
Baboiu notes there are plenty of empty or unused classrooms on campus. She says she has often wondered “why [the university] couldn’t at least set aside one of those classrooms so that the [Pride Club] could use it as a permanent pride centre.” Currently, the Pride Club must book rooms in advance at the Campus Activity Centre if members want to meet in person.
Baboiu says a Pride centre would act as a place for students to relax, study and get to know other queer students in between classes. She hopes a centre would include a space to lounge, do school work and prepare snacks. It would ideally be large enough to host club activities and events like the club’s biweekly Queer Connections event as well as other social gatherings.
Ideally, the Pride centre would be located somewhere central such as Old Main, or within a separate house similar to the Cplul’kw’ten (or “Gathering Place”) near TRU’s human resources building.
Progress slow as university deliberates request
Since petitioning the university, Baboiu says she has been in contact with TRU’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer to discuss how best to accommodate LGBTQ2S+ students on campus.
In 2018, TRU commissioned an internal comprehensive study called Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Thompson Rivers University that resulted in the creation of an EDI action plan and a commitment to funding the establishment of an EDI Officer.
In March 2021, TRU received a $400,000 federal grant aimed at enhancing EDI efforts. In a press release, the university stated funds from the grant would be used to create an EDI office on campus. As of August 2022, TRU has not released any further details about the office or announced progress in creating it.
Recently, Baboiu was informed university staff would like to meet with TRUSU Pride Club executives sometime in September to discuss setting up a Pride centre, but officials have yet to confirm a date and time. Baboiu says this is the first time she’s received word of a possible meeting since September of last year.
The Wren sent TRU a request for comment about the Pride Club’s concerns on July 20 and asked how many clubs at TRU currently have access to a dedicated meeting space. After multiple follow-up emails, TRU did not respond to The Wren’s questions but offered the following statement:
“We look forward to discussions with all members of the TRU community that identify as 2SLGBTQIIA about their needs for safe and welcoming spaces, wrap-around services and supports, and other resources. This work will draw on recommendations arising from the audit conducted by TransFocus.”
TransFocus, a consulting group that supports corporations and governments with transgender inclusion efforts, audited the university in March 2019 and later shared a report outlining recommendations that arose from the audit.
TransFocus, like the Pride Club, pointed out that despite important steps to support LGBTQ2S+ students, “there is currently no specific space for [transgender, non-binary, and two-spirit] people to gather” on TRU’s campus.
According to the university’s EDI action plan, it “aspire[s] to create a culture of inclusion that empowers all TRU faculty, staff, and students who are members of equity-seeking groups to succeed and thrive.”
Baboiu asks that community members amplify the Pride Clubs’ voice. She says Kamloopsians can do so by signing the TRUSU Pride Club’s pride centre petition, sharing the link on social media and informing friends and family of the lack of queer venue space in town. Baboiu adds queer students and community members should only do so if they’re in a comfortable position to share safely.