People are social beings. We seek out others who share our common interests, encourage us to think, and allow us to become the best versions of ourselves. We seek out communities that secure and maintain our values. It is easier to establish these communities when there are spaces that encourage its growth.
Enter the queer community. Within Peel, do queer people have an established space? Where do queer people go to spend their time and to be queer? The obvious lack of a ‘Gay Village’ would be enough to convince many that queer space doesn’t exist within the Region. This raises the question – do queer people need spaces explictly designed for them? How have queer people in Peel managed to occupy space?
Faced with a dearth of intentionally-constructed queer space, queer people have always forged their own ‘spaces,’ spaces that are largely more effective than anything someone outside of the community could construct (which is not to say that these spaces are not guilty of ignoring valuable voices). Yet it is still worth exploring the lack of explicitly queer spaces within Peel, and the apparent disinterest in creating them. Throughout the Queer Peel Project, a number of narrators stated that they didn’t have an explicitly queer space, and some even voiced a lack of interest in them. For example, for some, a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) was a place where queer people could solidify their identities within schools, and for others it simply “wasn’t their thing.” A specific interview intrigued me, however. When asked if there was an explicitly queer space or place in Peel that they frequented, Elio Colavito responded, “Actually we hung out at Tim Hortons. We were Tim Hortons rats for sure, which is like the trashiest thing I’ve probably ever been a part of in my life. Tim’s is a great place for all the misfits.”
Elio’s experiences were likely not unique from that of other teenagers growing up in Peel. The non-existence of explicitly queer spaces does not stop queer people from living their lives. It does, however, place a greater emphasis on the people that they share those spaces with. Sometimes these spaces may be occupied by other ‘misfits,’ including straight people. Irrespective of the occupants, it appeared that for many, physical space was secondary when people were attempting to construct community.
We tend to be fixated on the physical things we can see, touch, experience. It is the immaterial qualities that are sometimes more relevant. Through its development, the Region of Peel focused on the physical – highway here, townhouses for the nuclear family there, schools for kids close by – but largely neglected the variety of people that would take up those places.
This conversation surrounding queer spaces highlights that queer people are first and foremost people. They possess the ability to organize themselves however they’d like. Just as one’s life in not defined by one’s straightness, a queer person should not be defined by their queerness. A lack of queer space does stop one being queer. Elio’s experience included late nights at a Tim’s – and although it wasn’t a queer Tim’s, that’s irrelevant. The spaces that queer people occupy speaks to the resilience, creativity and innovation that exists within the community and only adds to their continued shared history.