I have been openly a part of the queer and trans community for almost a decade now. In my experience since coming out in 2014, I have realized that there are scarcely publicly queer spaces.
Now that I live in Waterloo, I have found my own spaces where I feel comfortable being myself. I have both performed and attended over a dozen drag shows since starting my journey in this city. As an individual with multiple overlapping identities I have experienced my fair share of injustice and general discomfort while existing outside my own four walls.
Aside from the Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Waterloo also offers the services of organizations like Spectrum, the Rainbow Centre and SHORE Centre among others.
Still, not all community members feel the same void that not having an openly queer bar creates. I was curious about the effect of not having a queer bar and decided to ask other LGBTQ+ people in Waterloo how they felt.
“I have been to a lot of drag shows at Wilf’s, The Bombshelter and Chainsaw, but none of these spaces were explicitly queer,” Nina W., a past executive for the Glow Centre said.
“Bars are one of the main ways that drag performers get to be known on the scene. Sometimes I worry about the safety of the people performing, I worry about hostile folks being present at these shows.”
The Order, uptown Waterloo’s last gay bar closed its doors in June of 2017, right in the middle of Pride Month.
“For queer people in general, it can be really tough to find places where you feel comfortable to be yourself,” Sarah Mathers, co-coordinator for the Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity said
Although the universities have spaces like the Rainbow Centre and the Glow Centre, it can be detrimental for the well being of queer folks in Waterloo that there are no queer spaces that are accessible to a wide variety of people.
“I feel like queer students do [have support], but there are still barriers to accessing services and spaces…[the Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity] does not have the same purpose as gay bars. [It] is a chill space to hang out,” Mathers said.
As a queer student myself, most of my experience being around queer and trans people have been in the same spaces that W. and Mathers described. Having these experiences made me wonder what it would be like not to have access to the Glow Centre during my undergraduate years. I do not think my experience in university would have been half as fulfilling as it has been because of these queer spaces.
Since the pandemic started last year, the absence of these places seems to be felt more and more by members of the community.
“During the pandemic, I do not feel like there [has been] a space for queer people in Waterloo, because people cannot access the physical locations,” Midas Belgari, co-coordinator for the Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said. For Belgari, the Glow Centre was important to her because it was her place to “socialize and get to know people, and be able to share experiences and get support.”
In North America, LGBTQ+ bars have provided a refuge for members of the community to be safe from violent actions and police harassment. Nowadays, organizations like the Rainbow Centre and the Glow Centre mostly act as places where queer and trans youth can find community.
There is a great demand for queer-oriented public spaces in the region and not just for students, but for the LGBTQ+ community at large.
“Queer spaces in the community are nice because they’re not just tied to certain organizations like the universities, it would make it open to everyone,” W. said.
The Queer Space is an effort to build more queer spaces in Waterloo Region and a place for queer members of the community to share their thoughts on anything and everything. This space is for all queer writers, regardless of experience (I’m an editor! I can help with that). In addition, if you would like to write to us but are hesitant to have your name attached to your piece, having a pen name or simply being anonymous is perfectly acceptable! If you would like to contribute or if you have name suggestions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!