Ontario Tech’s Pride Club (OT Pride) is doing what it can to make a name for itself on campus.
OT Pride is in its first year of operation after the original Pride Collective “fizzled out” in 2018.
Club president, Alex Biancaniello, a fourth-year nuclear engineer major, and vice-president, Mackenzie Pearman, a third-year networking and IT security major, started the club in the fall of 2019 with a specific mission in mind.
“I think the main focus of our club was building a community for students and trying to build a presence of LGBT students on campus because we were missing that at the school,” Biancaniello said.
Both Biancaniello and Pearman got involved after meeting at LGBT Equity Advocates.
LGBT Equity Advocates is part of the Student Engagement and Equity Office at Ontario Tech – a group of five students working alongside the equity and inclusivity advisor.
“I really wanted a pride club,” Pearman said. “When I [started at Ontario Tech] is when the other one completely disappeared, so I wanted to help start this in any way.”
Pearman and Biancaniello joined forces to make the club happen.
“When I joined LGBT Equity Advocates, that’s when I met Mackenzie,” Biancaniello said. “This is when I got lumped into the process with her.”
Alongside the Student Engagement and Equity Office, OT Pride has been a part of events such as Trans Week Awareness and LGBT Week Awareness. They have also created pamphlets and informational booklets that circulate at weekly group discussions.
These group discussions run throughout the year and act as a safe space for LGBT students on campus. Prior to the COVID-19 interruption of campus life, those meetings took place Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in any free classroom the executives could find.
“We took the OT Pride and made it more of a social aspect as well as education for everyone else not in the LGBT community,” Pearman said.
Pearman says she is happy OT Pride can be a safe space for students.
“There are a lot of people who will come to our discussion groups who we know don’t have a lot of other friends in the community,” Pearman says. “They’ll be a little more closed off, and we get to watch them come out of their shell.
“We have some students who come and they’re like, ‘this is my first time getting to use she/her pronouns,’ and, ‘this is my first time getting to acknowledge the name that I want’.”
Both Pearman and Biancaniello are happy with the turnout they have had at club events this year.
“We had an event at Halloween. We had like 30 people come which was really good,” Pearman said. “Most of our other events are more passive, like a booth, so we get like 40 to 50 people.”
“Last semester we had better turnouts than this semester,” Biancaniello said. “It kind of makes sense. Near the end of the year, it’s cold and people don’t want to go out or come to campus as frequently.”
OT Pride uses social media to attract new members.
“We try to use social media to interact with other clubs and they’ll interact back with us,” Biancaniello said.
Pearman added the school’s recruitment office will also “help plug it sometimes.”
One of the toughest challenges OT Pride said it faces is budgeting.
When the club was ratified, they were approved for a budget of $250, half of the maximum allowed by the Ontario Tech Student Union.
“When we were originally starting as a club, we didn’t want to come across as an expensive club,” Pearman said. “So, we undershot our budget quite a bit.”
Pearman added the club has turned to sponsorship forms to bring in more money but said it is a challenge.
Sponsorship forms are available to clubs who want to reach out to businesses and organizations in Durham Region for extra funding.
“For the most part, nobody really wants to sponsor our club, mostly because it is seen as such a common club,” Pearman said. “They assume that we’re getting money from the school, which we don’t.”
OT Pride has made it a priority to continue having events at no cost to students. The club has been successful in doing this by working with similar community organizations.
“We’ve been collaborating with other groups in Durham,” Pearman said. “So, LGBT Durham may have a swimming event and they will share events like those with us.”
OT Pride’s next event would have been a board game night at Brew Wizards Café in downtown Oshawa, but all club events and meetings, have been cancelled because of COVID-19.