Finding queer joy in the SFU Archives: Out On Campus records now available

June 02, 2024
A copy of the National Coming Out Day 1988 poster by the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council is at the top of this board advertising Coming "Out" Ceremonies at SFU. Out On Campus fonds, file F-282-3-3-0-3.

“Unfortunately, history has set the record a little too straight.”
- National Coming Out Day 1988 poster by the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council  

Who gets remembered and how they are remembered is something historians and archivists alike contend with. Are members of the community getting to be represented with their own records and memory, or only in the way they are written about by others? Archival institutions have historically reinforced dominant power structures by disregarding and erasing marginalized communities. This year, I got to “queer” the SFU Archives, an LGBTQIA2S+ community-inspired phrase that seeks to expand and add new perspectives to our collective history.

Out On Campus is the queer collective here at SFU, starting as “Gays of SFU” in 1972, a mere seven years after the university opened its doors. While it has gone through several name changes, its mission remains the same: to create a safe space for people of all genders and sexualities at SFU.

The Out On Campus fonds showcases the varied history of being part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community at SFU. From videos of OOC hosting ‘Coming Out Ceremonies’ in Convocation Mall to vandalized decorations and posters, it tells the continuing story of fighting for queer rights and finding queer joy.

I got to ask Jude Mah, the Coordinator at Out On Campus, a few questions about queerness, archives, and Out On Campus.

CC: The Out On Campus Instagram regularly posts images from other queer archives' collections. What do you think is the importance of having queer people represented in the archives, and being able to share the information there?

JM: Much of our history and current landscape is fraught with those we’ve lost, violence, isolation, oppression and more in that temperament. While this reality isn’t suddenly lost with the creation and sharing of these archives, I believe that it is so important to allow for moments of separation. To show queer folks, well known and not, in a snapshot free from that harshness. As people being who they are, existing individually and collectively. I find it shows us there were moments of joy even then, to now; there is hope for our histories to provide that same comfort for those that come after us.

CC: What is something you’ve had the most pride (hehe) in working on during your tenure at Out On Campus?

JM: I would say furnishing the lounge and making it more of a home. I started a few months after the SUB had first opened, and while we had basic furniture, it didn’t feel like our space yet. Then around March 2022, I requested and received over $20,000 from the SFSS Space Expansion Fund. The couches, fridge, kitchen storage and shelving were all purchased through this (we also are waiting to get furniture for a nap space) and it really started the process of making the lounge our own. I’ve had students come up and tell me how much it means to have this space, not only as a safe comfortable haven but to socialize with folks from their own community and the ease of access to support it provides.

CC: What would you like people to know about Out On Campus?

JM: That there’s no pressure to know who exactly you are when you step into this space. That there’s no singular way or timeframe for your own journey. I want OOC to always offer the capacity to meet where anyone is at, with the reassurance that this is still a space where you can seek refuge, support and community.

As a young queer person myself, processing this fonds was a delight and an honour. Due to the AIDS epidemic and lack of research and response from societal homophobia, almost an entire generation of queer people, especially gay men, died, leaving a void of older queer people to look up to as role models and as happy queer people growing up. Getting to go through these records and see young queer people planning events, of photos of university orientations 25 years ago advocating for and celebrating queer existence and expression, making the same jokes about queerness that I do to this day, was an emotional experience. The Archives acquired these records a few years ago and now that they are processed and accessible, I hope that many of you will also find joy and awe in these records as I have.

Want to learn more? Check out the Out on Campus fonds.