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    Will You Be My Queer Valentine?

    By Amanda Costa from Ryerson's Office of Sexual Violence and Support Education

    Will You Be My Queer Valentine?

    Too often Valentine’s Day and depictions of love in general focus solely on heterosexual romance. Rarely do queer people see themselves reflected, centred and celebrated in mainstream media and culture. Educator Vivek Shraya and illustrator Karen Campos Castillo create annual Queer Valentines for George Brown College Positive Space, as Shraya says, to “serve as a reminder that queer love is real and is worthy of celebration”. Their queer valentines celebrate all kinds of love from queer icons to self-pleasure.

    This year, Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence and Support Education and the Student Health Assistance and Resilience Program (SHARP) partnered with Shraya and Campos Castillo to bring their beautiful designs to campus for the #PleasurePrinciple campaign. Our favourites include the "NO" Valentine that reminds us that it’s okay to have boundaries in relationships and "Feeling Myself" image that praises our flawless bodies. To learn more about this wonderful project, scroll down for a Q & A with Shraya and Campos Castillo.

    Can you each share a little bit about who you are and the work you are doing?

    Karen Campos Castillo

    Vivek: I am the George Brown College Positive Space Coordinator and a Human Rights Advisor. I am also a multi-disciplinary artist.

    Karen: I do work in the visual arts: graphic design, illustration, photography and some cartooning. I run a website called Heartbeats which publishes interviews and photographs with Black, Indigenous and People of Colour from Canada and the US. It’s important for me to magnify our voices and our work. My more personal work involves comic storytelling based on my life as a refugee from El Salvador to Canada when I was 8 years old.

    As an educator/artist, you started this Valentine's project 10 years ago. Can you tell us more about how the project evolved? What inspired you to create these cards and what keeps you invested in celebrating queer love each each year?

    Karen Campos Castillo

    Vivek: When I became Positive Space Coordinator in 2007, one of my mandates was to increase queer visibility at the college. While poster campaigns and event programming are certainly effective forms of visibility, I wanted to start an initiative that would stand out. Valentine's Day has historically been a heteronormative holiday, and the idea of creating Queer Valentine's was an exciting way not only to queer the holiday itself, but also I saw the cards as gifts to queer staff and students. The cards have a nostalgic quality as many of us didn't get to honour our queer desires when we were younger and Valentine cards were circulated. They also serve as a reminder that queer love is real and is worthy of celebration.

    Karen: This is my 5th year doing the Valentine’s with Vivek. I think at the time there were definitely less DIY cards around, especially depicting queer love so it was really exciting to jump in and collaborate. I keep saying yes to the project because are so many ways to love beyond heteronormative romance; being queer sometimes means you might not have a relationship with your biological family so we wanted to honour the love we have for our chosen family and friends. We feel it’s important to honour our elders and idols, and try to include those ideas too. These concepts are really important to depict for our own well being and validation, and for youth just beginning to navigate their queerness.

    The images celebrate peoples, bodies, and love that too often are not included in mainstream conversations about love. Which Valentine is your favourite and why?

    Karen Campos Castillo

    Vivek: It's interesting to look back at the early designs of our cards nine or ten years ago and see how they have evolved to our current collection. They started out as being romantic and playful, which is important, but now the cards have become a lot more nuanced and political. My favourite card this year features a body embracing themselves with the Nicki Minaj/Beyonce lyric "Feeling Myself"—the card represents a celebration of fatness and self love. Fatness is often portrayed in conflict with love and desirability, and we are a highly couple-centric culture, and this card pushes against both these notions.

    Karen: I am particularly fond of the queer icons’ card which might age me and Vivek a bit (lol). I think losing someone like Prince in 2016 was hard because these people were unapologetically themselves during the 80s and 90s when there weren’t a lot of artists doing that and losing them made us realize how much they had meant to our development as queer artists.

    I love the card that depicts a heart and the name of each person killed at the Pulse NightClub. Why did you choose to highlight this?

    Karen Campos Castillo

    Karen: Because we can’t forget that this was an act directly targeting Latinx and Black communities, that despite gay marriage and giant parades featuring the PM in a pink shirt, our most vulnerable people are still suffering.

    In what ways do you think these Valentines are educating the community?

    Karen Campos Castillo

    Vivek: Because the cards are tied to a politic, I think it forces recipients to think about not only Valentine's Day, but love, pleasure and sexuality, beyond heteronormativity and beyond coupledom. This year, for instance, one of the cards has a giant NO, which you wouldn't expect on a traditional Valentine card, and speaks to the importance of consent—especially in the face of potentially territorial language like "be mine." ​

    The cards also often have a pop cultural element, featuring queer heroes, some of which aren't always widely known. The cards become an opportunity to learn about and honour queer icons.

    Meet Vivek Shraya and Karen Campos Castillo

    About #PleasurePrinciple

    Karen Campos Castillo

    The #PleasurePrinciple campaign is a collaboration Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence and Support Education and the Student Health Assistance and Resilience Program’s (SHARP). We are exploring relationships, consent and self-love. When it comes to relationships, we don't talk about pleasure enough. We want to move the conversation back to what it should be about; how to make ourselves and our partners feel good. Whether it’s a casual hook-up or long term relationship our #PleasurePrinciple is good feels for all.

    For dating tips, safer sex education, and some good vibes follow #PleasurePrinciple on twitter @RUPleasure, @RyersonHealth or our Facebook pages Consent Comes First Ryerson & Ryerson Health


    If you need support/information here is some information:

    Planned Parenthood Toronto


    If you self identify as LGBTQ, you can contact the LGBTQ Youthline:


    People of all genders, can contact Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Centre:

    416-597-8808 or

    If you self identify as a woman, you can call the Assaulted Women’s Hotline:


    If you self identify as a man, you can call the Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse: 1-866-887-0015

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