Friday, October 12, 2012

Being Queer at UTSC: An interview With Katherine Hele

Hello UTSC Students!  My name is Jakub Wasikiewicz (I know, but trust me, it’s better you just don’t bother trying to pronounce it for now), and I’ve just started writing for UTSC Pulse. I’m a second year English and Philosophy student, who considers himself lucky to be able to finally take apart the STUFF of UTSC.

To start with, I’d like to explore some of the people of UTSC. What makes us so special anyway? So for this week I’ve interviewed Kathering Hele, Outreach Executive of SC:OUT. Katherine talks to UTSC Pulse about the importance of having positive spaces on Campus, embracing the multicultural community of UTSC, and queer people being acknowledged and accepted on campus.

If you’d like to know more information about SC:OUT, as well as its events and volunteer opportunities, visit their website at  You can also stop by their office, BV 334/336, to have some incredible discussions on the most comfortable couches on campus, guaranteed.

What do you have to do with SC:OUT ?

I am the outreach executive for SC:OUT so I am responsible for communicating between different groups with SC:OUT or different groups on and around campus.

How long have you had this position?

I was elected last semester – so since April – but I have been a member since my first year and I’m going into my third year right now.

So what’s your favourite thing about being a part of SC:OUT?

Well, there’s a couple things. One thing I really like doing is the events. I love our talent nights, they’re like my favorite thing. Probably because I get to perform, which everyone loves to do. But also because I get to see so many folks performing, and performing types of things that you don’t typically get to perform. So we have a lot of folks doing drag, or performing spoken word pieces that are gender related and related around orientation, things that people don’t always get to talk about. It is a fun night – you get to explore talent and that stuff – but it also starts discussions, so I really like it. And I also just really love being in the office space and having conversations with folks about issues, what’s going on and how we experience things and experience this campus and how we want to change it. 

What do you think SC:OUT  does for the school?

Well, yeah, definitely starting discussions. One of the things I think that we do that’s really important is collabing with other groups.  For example, we’re part of Open Dialogue so through that we have the opportunity to communicate in dialogue with people from the Muslim Student Association, The Bahá'í Association, various different Christian groups on campus, the Moral Atheists, and all these other groups. Also to provide a space on campus, a physical space for people who are LGBTQ and Allies where they can actually feel comfortable sitting with their boyfriend or girlfriend on a couch, or even being comfortable on campus, and for a lot of people those places are very few and far between.

Why do you think this space is so crucial?

As a queer person on campus there are very limited spaces on campus where I can sit and study and do my own thing without hearing people saying, “Oh that’s so gay,” or hearing people call friends a fag. I don’t want to deal with that every single day. And when I’m outside of this space, a lot of the time I do. It’s really important that we have a space where that’s not ok.

Also, there’s a number of folks on campus who don’t “pass.” I’m pretty lucky I pass pretty well. So for me it’s like, you know, as long as I don’t mention it, people aren’t going to say anything. But for some folks it’s very difficult for people to go around on campus and not have people say things to them, not have people treat them badly. So even having this physical space where socially and just physically you can exist, and be who you are, it’s really crucial for a lot of people. I mean, in a perfect world we wouldn’t need this place, because this whole campus would be a positive space. But the fact that is we do need it and we do have it. It’s a huge resource.

What do you mean by pass?

By pass I mean like, ok well, if you don’t pass more people are more likely to perceive you as being part of the LGBTQ community. It also applies to other marginalized groups as well, so like if you have a disability, if you are a person of colour, if you are part of a certain religion, or any other group that you’re affiliated with for which you can experience discrimination or oppression, if you can pass as being not part of that group, pass as being part of the privileged group, it’s a little bit different than if you can’t pass. Part of not passing would be for example, I had a girlfriend and I’m walking around holding her hand, [making it] fairly obvious that I’m not straight, then I wouldn’t be passing.

What would you like to see changed on campus?

Do you have six hours?

Name one thing.

OK, the biggest thing would be: our campus talks a lot about how diverse we are, and how we’re so accepting. 

Because we have a lot of folks that are, you know, people of colour, people of different races and religions and people of different background. And we embrace that and that’s a beautiful thing. I would like to see that extended to the LGBTQ community on campus, and to have people actually realize that we’re here.

A lot of folks, especially if you challenge them because they’re saying something that’s homophobic, transphobic, or queerphobic, will say, “Well, there’s no gay people here so it’s no big deal!” Well, number one when I’m saying that it’s kind of ironic, but it’s also incredibly inaccurate because we have a lot of people on campus that are part of the LGBTQ community and who deserve to be able to live their lives without having to feel like there’s something wrong with them on this campus. I mean we’re all university students in 2012, this should be basic stuff.

And how are you trying to break these barriers on campus?

Part of what SC:OUT is trying to do as an entity is increase our visibility. So, some of that is through events, through postering campaigns, through collaborating with other groups. I think that’s the best way to make ourselves visible, because if we hold events with other groups, then their members come and it passes through word of mouth.

Also we’re looking for more speakers to come and actually talk about things like intersexuality and how we reconcile religion and being queer, and how we reconcile different cultural backgrounds and being queer, and how you can still embrace these traditions that you hold true and still embrace queer folks as well. So honestly I think a lot of it’s education, and having discussions, having these discussions and a lot of it’s making people aware.

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