Increasing acceptance for gay students

If you don’t know what Positive Space or GLASS are, then they are here to educate you. The Positive Space initiative and the Gay and Lesbian Academic Students and Staff are both actively campaigning to shed light on sexual diversity on the University of Calgary campus.


"The goal of the campaign is to increase awareness, understanding, tolerance and ultimately acceptance of sexual and gender diversity amongst the members of the university community," explain- ed Sexual Harassment Advisor and head of the Positive Space campaign Shirley Voyna Wilson.


The campaign began in 2000, borne out of a need brought to Wilson’s attention through numerous reports.


"I had received reports from different people about the need to raise awareness," she said. "The research was compelling. There is still silence around these issues, there’s still discomfort."


The Positive Space campaign aims to eliminate sexual discrimination on campus through education, discussion and facilitating a visible commitment by welcoming diversity. They have held workshops and lectures, and are currently concentrating on a series of displays in different faculties.


One of the most important parts of the campaign has been distributing Positive Space stickers. Professors can place these stickers in their office window or students can simply put them on a notebook with the goal of openly expressing their support and acceptance.


"[Members of the university community] are not confident of the reception they will get, hence the importance of the stickers," said Wilson, stressing the importance of actively acknowledging and accepting homosexuality. "They do raise visibility and state that ‘this is a safe zone’ and enable people to ask questions."


The campaign has received overwhelming support at the U of C, becoming a collaboration among most faculties, institutes and offices, including the Faculty Association, The Students’ Union, and GLASS. They are also helping Mount Royal College initiate a similar program.


"What I do know is that people perceive the university as a ‘Positive Space,’ though it’s not a perfect one," said Wilson of their ongoing efforts.


GLASS is also developing a peer support network for students having difficulties.


"Everybody’s parents go a little ‘wiggy,’ people just need to hear that they aren’t the only one," said GLASS Female Co-chair Sonia Rice. "Even the most well-adjusted person will struggle, having to mesh that with all the other crap students have to deal with."


Rice came to the U of C from British Columbia and felt the need to get involved on campus. Her cousin, involved in a similar group in Edmonton, suggested she look into GLASS. She has been a member for just over a year and said it has made her feel more comfortable.


Under the leadership of Edward Lee, a GLASS member and student in the faculty of Social Work, the group has begun to undergo formal training in how to help counsel fellow students. Lee stressed the importance for students to have support when "coming out" and said he himself was greatly affected by seeing former Olympian, and U of C alumnus Mark Tewksbury speak about his own fears as a student here from 1986-88.


"So many people go through those stages trying to accept themselves," said Lee. "When I went and saw him speak it made such an impact on the way I think."

Contact GLASS at PF 3220, 220-5153 or check out their web site at www.ucalgary.ca/~glass/. Find out more about the Positive Space campaign, or pick up a sticker, by visiting Counselling Services or www.ucalgary.ca/positivespace.

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