Please note that this article highlights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Historical quotes—some, unfortunately, from previous issues of this magazine—include inappropriate and offensive language, and discretion is advised.
It doesn’t take much to dig up BCIT’s dark past; even a shallow glance into the archives has revealed an unsavoury history most would like to forget. Although anti-lgbtq+ is less prominent in Canada today, there’s something to be said about recognizing what was once the norm for gender and sexual expression and, for precautionary remembering, where BCIT stood within this wider context.
Looking back at how the LGBTQ+ community was represented through some of the schools’ first publications sheds light on what it was like to be part of a community ridden with hate in past decades.
The year is 1992, and according to Link’s Sex, Lies, and Gender issue, BCIT is “the only campus in the lower mainland that doesn’t have a student organization to support its lesbians and gays.” A claim that casts an egregious shadow over a campus nestled inside one of the world’s progressive enclaves. Even today, it’s unknown how every person will interpret this piece, considering the number of reported hate crimes targeting sexual orientation saw a 64 percent rise from 2019 to 2021, according to Statistics Canada.
Decriminalizing homosexuality in Canada did not begin until 1969. While the legislation decriminalized homosexuality, Canada did not appeal any laws. Many sections of the criminal code still prohibited public displays of homosexuality at the time, reflecting how much work still needed to be done to change legislation and the longstanding shame ingrained into society. The result was an influx of protest and activism groups in the 70s following the 1969 amendments. A prominent example of their impact includes the “We Demand” document, a list of demands for action regarding injustice. It wasn’t until the 80s, after many more monumental protests took place, that a majority of repeals for discriminatory laws and policies began. Same-sex marriage was legalized years later, in 2005.
Despite Canada’s relatively advanced stance on LGBTQ+ issues compared to the rest of the world, some people still hold beliefs against those identifying as LGBTQ+. Harmful opinions and stereotypes that have seeped through generations are factors in why activist groups are raising awareness of current discrimination and unfinished progress.
While BCIT offers different views now, the history of the campus raises concerns about what ideologies students may hold now, as varying views on the topic can be rooted as deep as the aged, archived, and grayscale printed articles.
“What articles?” You may wonder. Well, Link didn’t always support LGBTQ+ initiatives, let alone the individuals themselves. However, we shouldn’t simply pin this history on a magazine name or a school since it was real people representing common beliefs held at the time. Notably, the people in question were, more often than not, white men. BCIT’s first graduating class is a perfect example of why that was, as well as the fact that Link contributors in the 60s through 80s were of male majority.
Nowadays, derogatory phrases could never pass the first (of three) rounds of edits. However, among archived articles, there was no hesitation to include student contribution pieces venting about sex and gender, usually in a crude, homophobic manner.
“As it is, he’s forced to dress his boy in girls clothing and his girl in boys clothing and send these potential drag queens out in the street to panhandle,” wrote John Pippus in a 1968 November issue, shaming a father for supposedly being too poor to dress his children in what he deemed appropriate and gender conforming.
In a section titled “The Finger on the Dyke” of a 1970 October article, contributor Paul Brown spread word of the “poolroom” talk that “the only women that can live happily without male companionship are grouped into a class known as dykes.” He elaborates on the concept by admitting he doesn’t know all too well what that means, but he is “sure that they have a very serious problem.”
It’s common knowledge how prevalent homophobia was during the 1960s and 1970s, but how did BCIT’s coverage and student opinions compare to other post-secondaries in the lower mainland?
While searching UBC’s The Ubyssey archives from 1960 to 1970, there were no pieces strewn with homophobia like those of Link. The word gay does appear, but in contrast to being written hatefully, the writers used it within the “happy & joyful” definition.
Unfortunately, I concluded there might be none as apparent as those in Link, heading into 1975 with a January article still publishing slurs.
Fast forward a few years, and by 1978, UBC seemed ahead of the curve, with The Ubyssey publishing a sexuality article regarding the gay community at their school.
“UBC has a gay community. Although there are those in the university that would like to ignore it as well as those that are actively hostile, the gay community will not disappear or go into hiding,” wrote Ubyssey columnist Peter Manyez. At the time, the school also had a club titled The Gay People of UBC, with “fifty to sixty people attending their weekly meetings.”
Meanwhile, during that same year, crickets from BCIT.
Fourteen years after UBC, BCIT published its first “gay, lesbian, bisexual supplement” in 1992. This Link vastly differed from previous years, with multiple sections directed towards the LGBTQ+ community, including an interview piece with Svend Robinson, MP for Burnaby Kingsway and Canada’s first openly gay member of parliament.
While BCIT had ignored many points of LGBTQ+ history, there have been times, such as The Stonewall Riots, widely considered a turning point of gay liberation, that were approached by Link. When looking at LGBTQ+ moments in history, the choice to write about this one is unsurprising, considering how notable it is. The first New York riot occurred in 1969 when the New York Police Department attempted to raid the city’s popular Greenwich Village gay bar, but patrons fought back. This fight resulted in nationwide attention from the public and the media. Five days of protest followed the initial riot, and while this uprising did not start the gay rights movement, its impact was undeniably substantial and still recognized as such today.
One thing BCIT did have by the 90s was a pride club, founded in 1990. The first meeting written about in Link was on September 28th, 1994. Described as an “organization for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and gay positive individuals.” That same article was when the club presented its new name, Take Pride. The club was formerly known as GALA-BCIT, which stood for Gays and Lesbians at BCIT.
Hugging the corners of a 1994 Take Pride club promotion, most other events providing an address where applicable, the Take Pride club had a phone number to contact for more information, highlighting what could have been a need to release details cautiously.
An article taken from the January 1994 issue of Link describes the experience of LGBTQ+ students aptly, highlighting the apparent need for discretion when conducting affairs related to LGBTQ+ affairs and clubs. “BCIT’s campus life is most often about being silenced, excluded, and confronted with messages of hate-subtlety expressed in casual conversation or on the washroom walls. It is a place quickly left. Only in rare cases is someone willing to put themselves on the line to confront this.”
However, by 1997, the campus environment must have become safe enough for the club to include the location of the meeting place. It was later than other post-secondary institutions, but inclusivity appeared to be gaining traction at BCIT.
Improvements continued from the 2000s up into the 2010s, but in 2011, the advice column in Link still provided advice for victims of anti-LGBTQ experiences on campus.
“If one ignorant self-hating person gets to spew off discriminatory comments without repercussion, it won’t be long before that snowball is careening down the hill picking up more people along the way,” wrote Drake Winters & Olivia Starling in response to a question regarding how to handle homophobia one student experienced at school.
2011 was a milestone year for BCIT. It was the year the school made its first appearance at the Vancouver Pride Parade with the Evolution Radio team.
Unfortunately, this momentum didn’t last long. BCIT’s pride club fizzled out two years after the parade debut, with no students picking up leadership roles. It wasn’t running again until 2019, and it was during this time the school decided to develop a staff-run Pride Committee to help fill the holes left in the community and support the club run by students.
The individuals and clubs at BCIT have significantly improved the school’s social landscape. However, considering the on-and-off record of events, it may not be a high priority for many people.
I only intend to point out the lack of consistency. The school has seen difficulties finding individuals to take on the heavy responsibilities of running any society. When students carry hefty course loads, and staff members have to work extra commitments around their jobs, it’s not surprising that there’s not an overflow of members.
Yet consistency seems to be on the cards, with The Pride Committee relaunched this past June at the Vancouver Pride Parade. Stating what current and future students can expect, the BCIT website says that “upcoming events organized by BCIT’s Pride Committee (to) provide opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to come together and foster understanding, raise awareness, and celebrate the 2S/LGBTQIA+ community.”
This announcement brings hope and potential for a new era of identity celebration and inclusion. With a past so tainted with hate and shortfalls, representation at the school is in demand.
Even so, while numerous online resources direct students to websites or counselling services under the BCIT Pride webpage, there still isn’t a room or a space that students can go to for help, unlike SFU and UBC, which both offer inclusive in-person LGBTQ+ areas as a safe space at their schools. The question now is what BCIT can do to ensure enough support for the pride committee to run consistently in the future, and is there an opportunity for a pride club to develop with the resources for success available?
Finally, will there ever be a designated area at BCIT that defies its past and catches the school up to other post-secondaries? If the school attains funding to provide LGBTQ+ students with a place, room, or meeting area, it would deliver hope to individuals feeling unconsidered and overlooked on campus and, by extension, set a precedent for further development in making BCIT the inclusive space we all deserve.