The idea of a queer community centre arose in 1997. Over the next couple of years, several brainstorming meetings took place. In 2003, the plan was put in to action when a number of social service providers from Guelph-Wellington met to see how they could pool their resources. At the first Guelph Pride Picnic in 2003, members of the Out On The Shelf planning committee tried to raise money and awareness about this community centre concept. That same year, the committee traveled to Kitchener-Waterloo to do the same thing. Initially, the committee wanted this community centre to be for the Waterloo-Wellington region.
After some planning, they decided that the foundation for this community centre would be books. They wanted this space to be trans-supportive, polyamorous and sex-positive, and inclusive for all. So, the committee collected books and furniture for two years before they found a space. A large majority of the books were purchased at a low price from a Hamilton bookstore which had recently shut its doors. The initial name for the community centre was Zie’s Pride Place (zie being one of the gender neutral pronouns). After much discussion, the committee chose Out on the Shelf because it more concisely represented what the organization did.
The committee approached the Canadian Mental Health Association on Wyndham Street which had a vacant board room. The CMHA donated the room to the committee. OOTS officially opened its doors to the public on October 20, 2005.
In 2007, Out On The Shelf was forced to move to the Matrix Building because the space at the CMHA was no longer available due to budget cuts. Once they settled into the new space, collective members began recruiting more volunteers. In order to solidify the organization and to register as a non-profit organization, OOTS developed an Operations Committee and a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors managed rent, finances, fundraising, and other administrative duties whereas the Operations Committee was responsible for volunteers, events, and programs. OOTS was incorporated as a non-profit organization on January 8, 2008. In 2010/2011, many members who were on the Board of Directors were also on the Operations Committee. As a result, they decided to amalgamate the Board of Directors and Operations Committee to be more efficient. In early 2012, a Working Board was formed. During this time, OOTS developed a new mission statement: To foster connections and leadership that provide a focus and visibility for the LGBTQ community through partnerships, service, and education.
Many events and programs have taken place over the years at Out On The Shelf. Most notably, the fundraising garage sale that continues annually in May to coincide with ‘Spring Cleaning’ and the end of University of Guelph’s Winter Semester, when a large majority of students move out of the City. One of the more recent event initiatives are Open Houses which take place a number of times per year when OOTS is open for an extended period of time. People can return books (without penalties), take out books, and socialize with volunteers, Board members, queer community members, and allies.
Today, OOTS continues to play a very active role in Guelph’s Queer Community. OOTS now has over 130 active members and over 30 volunteers. Because OOTS is operated solely by volunteers, its hours of operation rely heavily on volunteer availability. OOTS continues to grow as an organization and as a resource centre.
Guelph Pride’s History is available at guelphpride.com/ourhistory
Rainbow Knitters and Knit-A-Thons
The Rainbow Knitters was an knitting group run by Out On The Shelf. In 2009, the Rainbow Knitters started the Knit-A-Thon which served as a major fundraiser for OOTS. Groups of four or more people, all of whom needed to raise a specific amount of money came to OOTS to knit. In the first year, they raised over $3,000. The Knit-A-Thon continued until 2012, the last year of the Rainbow Knitters’ existence.
The Laramie Project
In 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, a man named Matthew Shepard was beaten because of his sexual orientation. He died a couple of days later from the injuries. His death inspired a group called the Tectonic Theater Project to visit Laramie and interview residents. Inspired, they wrote a play called “The Laramie Project” which has appeared all over the world. In 2005, the Wellness Centre at the University of Guelph presented this production and donated $1,200 in proceeds to Out On The Shelf. This donation allowed OOTS to open its doors to the public.
Out On The Shelf will continually strive to create a safe, inclusive, and diverse space for all members of the community.