Queer Peel – Reflections from a Student

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In Elspeth Brown’s previous post “Queer Peel Oral History Project,” she explained how her recent 3rd year history course at the University of Toronto Mississauga was focused on creating primary sources about queer and trans life in Canada’s “burbs.” As a student that found themselves in that course, I’d like to take the time to reflect on and explore some of the feelings, themes, and ideas that arose from my involvement in this project.

When selecting my course load for the academic year, I was immediately drawn to Professor Brown’s history course: “LGBTQ2+ Oral History: Queer Peel.” The title, when first read, sounded like an oxymoron. 

“What Queer history is there in Peel? What history is there in Peel?” 

Having posed this question to myself, I fell victim to Small City Syndrome. As a neighbour to the largest city in Canada, arguably one of (if not the) major LGBTQ2+ hotspots in the country, people tend to overlook the history that has occurred (or not occurred) within the Peel Region. Of course, this is not limited to LGBTQ2+ life – past and present – but considering queer Peel versus queer Toronto reveals a stark contrast. For example, if you live in Peel Region, reflect on how many times you’ve been to a Pride event in Toronto versus how many times you’ve attended a Pride event in Peel. 

“There are Pride events in Peel?” 

So, in the face of a dearth of resources for studying this topic, as Professor Brown put it, “my students and I decided to create some.” While the work that we were able to produce is important, it fell short in certain aspects, and I believe these shortcomings are the areas where we can try to strengthen future iterations of this project. One specific aspect that I’d like to focus on is the narrators that were interviewed. As part of the group assigned the broadest subtopic, “Being Queer in Peel,” my group was given an encouragingly open space to work with, but it was also slightly intimidating. Trying to locate willing narrators, we did what most Gen Z-ers would do and turned to social media. A fellow group member and friend created a graphic and we began circulating it on our respective social media accounts. 

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This post allowed us to reach out to people within our existing Queer networks, and we were eventually able to secure some interviews. But the strength of this method was also its vice; although we were able to reach out to our Queer friends, we were inadvertently ignoring people outside of certain demographics. Most namely, that of age. From the beginning, a personal goal of mine was to secure an interview with someone older than us. Luckily we were able to accomplish this, thanks to an interview with S Trimble. A quick glance over our exhibition, however, reveals its heavy domination by younger narrators. It will be important in our continuing efforts to try and address other demographic concerns, including those of gender and race, but with a specific emphasis on class. The process of completing this project revealed the apparently tacit though false belief that if one is living in the suburbs, they must be a part of the middle class. 

If you would be interested in learning more about the project, please contact: Elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca.