Where At BCIT Can Students Find Pride

Illustration by Sheku Nafisi

Last week I met with Trina Prince in the SA offices to discuss the history of 2SLGBTQ+ issues at BCIT. Trina has been working with the BCIT Student Association (SA) for three years, and prior to that worked for the BCIT Alumni Association for 3 years. They have been involved in Pride discussions since they came to BCIT. We spent time discussing the victories and the struggles in gaining visibility for the 2SLGBTQ+, as well as some of the resources that are currently available.

Can you tell me about yourself, your pronouns, and the involvement you have with the 2SLGBTQ+ community at BCIT?

I am the event manager here at the student association. I identify as non-binary, and my pronouns are they/them. My time with the 2SLGBTQ+ community here at BCIT has been awesome, and it has been a learning experience.

The year I started working at BCIT (2013) I attended the Vancouver pride parade, excited to see the BCIT Pride float. When I found out that they didn’t have one, I brought this up, and was told that there was a committee looking into creating a Pride float. I wanted to get involved and so I became co-chair of the Pride Parade Committee. In 2014, as a collective, BCIT was in the parade. From then on, the BCIT Faculty Staff Association, the BCITSA, Indigenous Services, the Alumni Association, Evolution Radio, BCIT Human Resources and the BCIT Marketing Team have all been involved with creating the float. The first year we had 20 people participating and now we have around 60.

Over time the Pride Parade Committee realized they needed to do more for the 2SLGBTQ+ community on campus. In 2016, the Committee decided to expand, include student representatives, and become the Pride Committee. We’ve had to look at what we wanted to see on campus. We built a BCIT Pride website and have developed a social media team. Other committee members have worked on creating events and programming. We want to see more 2SLGBTQ+ gender neutral washrooms. We’ve looked at having a safer space and staff to support students and drive initiatives on campus. The committee is very much a grassroots organization; we came together to move things in the right direction.

Are you volunteering to work on the Pride Committee, or is it a paid position?

All committee members do this off the side of their desks. Many of us are doing this during working hours but it is not part of our specific job descriptions. I’ve been very fortunate that the Student Association has allowed me to be in this chair role. There is no strict budget line for Pride from any of the organizations. A number of us saw that there was a need for this committee in the BCIT community and decided to act.

What is the difference between the BCIT LGBTQ+ club and the Pride committee?

The LGBTQ+ club was just picked up again this year by one of our students. There was a long-running club called “Technically Queer” but it hasn’t existed for at least six years because no students took on the leadership role. Staff cannot run student clubs and there was no one coming forward to run it until recently. Many students are interested, but running a club takes a lot of time, and as we know, BCIT students are very busy with full-time classes and homework. We created the staff-run Pride Committee to help bridge that gap and support the student-led club. The LGBTQ+ club members are encouraged to sit on the Pride Committee.

Is there a lot of involvement from students in the Pride Committee?

We have socials every month and we do get students from all different faculties and programs coming out to these programs. I think that the reason other campuses, like SFU, are more successful is because they have full-time dedicated outreach staff, which is something BCIT should really look into. I’m excited that the Student Association created an executive role this year for Equity and Sustainability; I think that’s so key in driving forward a properly funded 2SLGBTQ+ outreach program. I definitely believe that more things should be happening.

What are the resources currently available for 2SLGBTQ+ students?

Counselling services is a great resource for 2SLGBTQ+ students and all students to go use. The Pride committee has been working with the SA, Indigenous Services & the BCIT Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) on monthly pride socials. I’ve also introduced the Trans Day of Remembrance in November and the Transgender Day of Visibility in March. We also have an International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia every year as well through the SA. I’m excited about having more visibility on campus with new events and initiatives, but there is definitely room for more to happen.

What is being done in terms of training on pronoun usage?

There is a one-on-one workshop that is being presented by myself and the Harassment & Discrimination Prevention Office, called “Gender and Sexuality” that discusses gender terms and gender identities. Training is pushed out to a few groups on campus, such as Resident Advisors, nursing staff and school of health sciences staff. The training isn’t mandatory for staff, though.

Who is responsible for resources like funding—is it the SA or the university?

BCIT. The institution should be funding this program. An outreach program should be reaching out to students, faculty, and staff to offer training. I think such a project has a larger scope than what the SA should fund and needs to be administered by the institution.

Can you tell me about the gender-inclusive washrooms on the Burnaby campus?

The discussion around accessible washrooms is newer, but ten years ago when this project came up, it was innovative. A group came together and made sure there were a certain number of single-stall washrooms on the Burnaby campus that were inclusive. At the time it really worked, but speaking from my own experience, there needs to be more of a push to educate the importance of gender-neutral washrooms.

There also needs to be an audit of the washrooms we have on campus. SE02 and SE06 have a plethora of binary washrooms, but only one single stall gender-neutral washroom between the two of them, which doesn’t work properly. In that specific case one of the two gender binary washrooms could be turned into a gender-neutral washroom.

My old university in Ontario had signs in binary washrooms explaining that these washrooms can be used by anyone and also had a map there showing where single gender-neutral washrooms were if people wanted to use those instead. With the new buildings coming in the next four-five years we should have a plan for single stall gender neutral washrooms.

How often does the Pride committee meet?

As the chair of the committee I can only plan meetings every three or four months. We just can’t meet that often when we all have full-time work commitments. It’s not a volunteer position but we are doing it as an external capacity outside of our job descriptions. Hopefully the new VP of Equity and Sustainability position will be a role with more power to push these issues forward to BCIT’s Board of Governors. Student voices can move things forward. When students asked for a department for career services, we made that happen. When they asked for more food options on campus, we made Pavilion happen. Students have to voice their concerns for us to be able to act on these issues of inclusion.

What else would you like to see BCIT improve for the 2SLGBTQ+ community here?

I’m feeling good about the direction we’ve gone in the last few years thanks to the passion from people on the committee. Diversity Circles also hosts events on campus concentrating on gender and sexuality. Just recently a Two-Spirit person came in and shared their learnings and teachings.

Why isn’t there a 2SLGBTQ safe space at BCIT?

The pride committee discussed having a safer space on campus, but we felt like a designated room wouldn’t be enough. It won’t be a safer space if no one can run it. If there is no staff or coordinator or no programming coming out of it, it’ll just be a room. A room that we can’t guarantee will be a safer space. That’s why nothing has been created yet. With a push for a coordinator, a space could come with that.

Was no one talking about 2SLGBTQ issues before the Pride Committee was established?

The Evolution Radio station was in the Pride Parade before BCIT was, and there was Technically Queer. There have been folks that have tried to start a few different things that I know of, but nothing came to fruition. Diversity is an important concept for BCIT, but it hasn’t been made a priority. We have to have leadership buy-in, supporting diversity and fighting for diversity. Diversity should start from the beginning. It can’t be something that is added in afterwards. BCIT is fifty plus years old—we need to look at ways in which the institution can catch up. There are a lot of opportunities. Students do have a voice and it needs to be heard for changes to be made. It can’t just be staff pushing for these changes.

What about younger students that might still be questioning their sexuality as they move from high school to post-secondary? We have an increasingly younger incoming student body. Shouldn’t we have resources for them?

We have to support students when they are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Finding supportive places is a natural part of the post-secondary experience. I know that when I was in university, I was beginning to figure out who I was and had people to support me in that process. I came out at 19 and it was good to have support.

Visibility would really help push some of those initiatives along, and help people feel safe to come out. A coordinator would be really helpful in creating services to foster visibility on campus. The Pride Committee has talked about it, but we don’t have the capacity to do that by ourselves. I think diversity across the board needs to be celebrated. Having a coordinator or an entire diversity centre would be really useful for this.

Thank you so much for your time, Trina.

After our discussion was over, I realized that we were looking at a very specific problem the entire time–the fact that BCIT didn’t have a full-time staff member dedicated to equity issues. The position wouldn’t be created until students spoke up and requested it, but students wouldn’t speak up until they felt they had a safer space to do so. In the end, this appears to be a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. Either students or staff need to step up, so that BCIT can provide more of the exciting new initiatives that universities in Vancouver are receiving.