By ALLANAH PINHORN
Room 1D23 is full. It’s packed in fact. Over 50 Conestoga College students are sitting, round-table style, laughing and getting to know one another. They come from different backgrounds; some like poetry, others rock music, yet they are all brought together by a common event: Student Life’s GLBTQ Welcome Night.
GLBTQ is an acronym for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and queer or questioning.
A yearly event, partnered with Conestoga’s Gay Straight Alliance, the Welcome Night is the brainchild of Student Life programmer and Conestoga graduate, Ryan Connell, who started it three years ago.
“For us in the Student Life department we really see this as a great opportunity for students who identify as GLBT to attend and be able to transition into the (Conestoga) community,” Connell said.
Held on Sept. 11, the Welcome Night created an open and safe place for students who identify as GLBTQ, and their straight friends. It was a chance for students who face unique challenges to gather, feel accepted and make friends; a meet-and-greet for students who sometimes feel alone.
Although they may all look different – there’s rainbow hair, long and greying beards, men and women – they share a commonality that, while not defining in itself, plays an important part in their lives, and perhaps, their success at Conestoga.
“There are a lot of different issues that may arise that can prevent them from succeeding,” Connell said. “For many students right now, going into college or university is also the time when maybe they’re coming out for the first time. (They) haven’t been in an environment which they feel safe or comforting, they see Conestoga as an amazing place to finally do that, and show themselves.”
The reality is, even in this tolerant day-and-age, it is sometimes hard for GLBTQ students to be at ease. Even if outright hate is a thing of the past for some social groups, little things, like ‘that’s so gay’ to describe something unpleasant can hurt.
Comfort is what second-year practical nursing student Taylon Leduc experiences in Conestoga hallways. “Gay, straight, it doesn’t matter. Everyone here is so accepting. I feel so proud to be who I am.”
The Welcome Night, with its icebreaker games, free pizza and jovial atmosphere, did indeed make the attendees feel at home and at ease. It also gave the students access to the services provided to them on campus. Things such as GLBTQ-friendly counselling, security services and a gender-neutral washroom located near the Sanctuary at 2A118B.
However, Connell was proud to announce that this year the event was less about needing those services, and more about connecting.
Ashlea Welsh, a Conestoga graduate returning to study recreation and leisure services, agreed. “All I see now is friendly faces in the halls,” she said.
Connell isn’t surprised. “We have so much diversity here on the campus, and we are an accepting community for all students. This is a place, at Conestoga College, where you can be accepted, be welcomed and be who you are.”
For more information about the GLBTQ club go to www.conestogac.on.ca/studentLife/glbtq/