By Mira Miller
With the creation of new LGBTQ+ spaces such as Toby’s Place in Scarborough, Club 717 in Oshawa and the highly anticipated opening of a new LGBTQ+ lounge and bar in Newmarket called Stage 185, queer spaces in Toronto are expanding beyond the downtown core. Still, Ryerson students say there will always be a need for spaces at Ryerson and in the Village.
“I definitely understand the struggle where you’re looking for a queer-focused event and you don’t really have that in suburbs,” said Emily Woloszuk, a fifth-year journalism student and member of the LGBTQ+ community. She added that they’re very much needed.
Woloszuk grew up in Mississauga and now lives in Oakville. She said queer spaces in both suburbs are few and far between, so she commutes to Toronto for social events.
Even so, Woloszuk said if more LGBTQ+ spaces did start popping up in the GTA, while she may attend occasionally, she would still go into the city because she feels safer surrounded by more diversity.
“People migrate towards big cities because of that liberal environment,” she said.
Keely Vaudrie, a first-year nutrition and food science student and LGBTQ+ community member, said the queer community in Toronto is the reason places like Newmarket are beginning to liberalize. She said she believes the progressiveness of the city inevitably impacts the surrounding suburbs.
“The movement of people far away can impact the movement of people in front of you,” she said.
Vaudrie is from Barrie and often played hockey in Newmarket when she was younger. She said she is surprised a place like Newmarket is opening an LGBTQ+ space and wonders whether or not it will be used.
Still, Vaudrie said the opening of Stage 185 LGBTQ2 Lounge is undoubtedly influenced by Toronto and it’s a step in the right direction.
Mark McKelvie, a second-year journalism student, said he frequents spaces in the Village and feels completely accepted at Ryerson. Still, he said he would love to see a queer space like the one in Newmarket open in his hometown of Sarnia, Ont.
McKelvie said he hasn’t joined any queer-specific groups or clubs at Ryerson because he hasn’t felt the need to.
“As a gay person, I feel the mobility to be able to go to whichever group I’d like and that’s a testament to the climate that’s created here [at Ryerson],” he said.
Along with McKelvie, Vaudrie said she has always felt accepted for who she is at Ryerson.
“I’ve never felt judged in any community whenever I go and join things,” she said.
She added that before attending Ryerson, she had never seen a gender-neutral washroom. She said she uses them often and finds it empowering.
She also said she went to some LGBTQ+ meet-ups in her first semester.
“You don’t often see these people who walk the barriers between genders and sexualities and then finally I got into a room full of people that were like-minded individuals,” she said. “It’s like walking into a room with a bunch of mirrors and you go ‘Hey! We all look like each other!’ and it’s cool to have that.”
Vaudrie said that even with much-needed spaces opening up outside the city, nothing will be able to replace the openness and diversity of downtown Toronto and Ryerson specifically.
The need for non-alcohol-centric spaces
Roy Luo, an LGBTQ+ community member and first-year fashion design student, is from North York. Luo said he would be open to attending queer spaces in his neighbourhood if they opened, but only if they weren’t centred around alcohol.
Luo said that as an underage student who is generally uncomfortable in a bar setting, it can be difficult to find queer spaces whether that be in the suburbs or downtown.
“If you’re younger, you’re searching for a community but that’s often a part of nightlife that you really don’t have access to,” he said.
Instead, Luo said he found community within his program at Ryerson, and while he has attended a few Queer & Trans People of Colour Collective meetings, he finds it difficult to find time to go because of schoolwork.
He also said while he feels spaces that aren’t centred around alcohol and partying are lacking, the new bar and lounge in Newmarket increases queer folks’ accessibility to community and that is a positive thing overall.
Woloszuk said that while a gay bar in a conservative suburb may not sound perfect to everyone, overall it is good for the community. “Any kind of space where you’re having a different approach to the current establishments and institutions that we have in society can only be positive,” she said.