A founder of Queen’s chapter of EngiQueers reflects on the evolution of LGBTQ+ visibility in the faculty

Posted on June 18, 2021


Nearly two years ago, a short while after his graduation from the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining at Queen’s, Rob Litwin, Sc’18, embarked on an eight-hour drive from his parents’ home in Toronto to the northeastern Ontario city of Timmins to begin his journey as an Engineer in Training with Pan American Silver, the Vancouver-based silver mining company.

“The town that I live in right now outside of Timmins has a population of about 3000. I'm really enjoying it,” he said. “I met my partner up here and we bought some property out on Kamiskotia Lake, so we're designing a lake house, and I just find life is way more relaxed than in the city.”

“There’s enough culture and diversity up here that I feel like I can settle here, and I like that I can hop on a plane and be in Toronto in about an hour.”

Rob is one of the founders of the Queen’s chapter of the LGBTQ+ student group, EngiQueers. In his fourth year here, back in 2016, a selection of engineering students transformed a locally-developed group into the fold of this national organization, EngiQueers Canada, that currently boasts some thirty member groups.

“There were a lot of people ahead of me that started a social initiative called Positive Allies and Queers in Engineering (PAQE). In 2016 we overhauled that, the steering committee that I worked with, and rebranded it as Queen’s EngiQueers. And that was essentially to increase visibility,” he said.

“People knew there was an LGBTQ+ initiative in engineering at that point, whereas I found in my experience the intentions of PAQE got lost in the acronym. And the other reason is that other chapters were popping up in different Ontario and Canadian engineering schools, so we saw that as a way to move forward and join a collective group.”

Rob Litwin

In the five years that have passed, he has seen growth in the organization as society in general trends toward greater visibility and acceptance toward diverse perspectives and experiences.

“I don’t think I was trying to start EngiQueers in order to revolutionize the faculty,” he said, “but I’ve noticed that the more recent club presidents and the organizational structure of EngiQueers have done a great job adapting to the Black Lives Matter movement and increased visibility of Indigenous and two-spirited issues in Canada. When I was President, it was a lot more focused on ‘what can we do at Queen’s’ and ‘how can we enhance this experience for Queen’s students.’ I think they’re doing an excellent job of adapting to the social changes and movements of the times.”

Looking to the future, from the perspective of an alumni who came out at 18 and was looking for a community of his own, Rob reflects on the experiences that presented to him the greatest value.

“I've always wanted EngiQueers to host a conference,” he said. “I remember trying to look into it when I was there in my last year, my fifth year. The first conference I actually felt comfortable going to at Queen’s was a queer one run by Q+ [formerly Out at Smith], the LGBTQ+ network at Smith School of Business. It was incredibly well organized and engaging. They hosted one or two conferences a year. I met some excellent mentors at that conference and I'm still in touch with them today, so I think that was probably the most valuable experience I gained from a queer group.”

“I think down the line it would be amazing to have professional networking conference built into the Queen’s EngiQueers organization.”