Category Archives: LGBTQ+

Celebrating Community with Pride: A (personal) reflection on the formation of a new Queer Employee Resource Group for 2SLGTBQ+ equity

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Alex Pedersen (she/her) staff member and adjunct professor at Queen’s University, closes the school year 2020-2021 reflecting on the importance of creating spaces where 2SLGBTQ+ members can thrive and feel supported

June marks Pride Month in Canada. For many, this month brings a celebration of diversity amongst 2SLGTBQ+ communities and a recognition of struggles, setbacks, and victories towards equality. I look forward to this month not just to celebrate my Queer identity with others, but to reflect on the importance of space and place in community building (drawing on another identity as a geographer!).

For the purposes of this blog post, let’s define what I mean by community. If you were to look up community in the dictionary, you might find a traditional view that focuses on physical space, whereas today we understand that communities exist in both physical and virtual spaces. Communities are comprised of individuals who share one or more identity; race, ethnicity, religion, culture, profession, gender, sexuality, personal experience, or backgrounds are just a few examples. It’s possible to belong to more than one community (i.e., I am part of the Queer community, but also part of the Kingston and Queen’s communities). But communities also have defined boundaries (physical or identity specific) to safeguard space for those who comprise the community. Let’s remember too that communities are not homogenous groups; respective of the 2SLGTBQ+ community, one can see that many identities – Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual, Queer – create space together, but not without internal tensions. Building community is difficult work, with many barriers, but I would argue is ultimately a rewarding experience to create space in support of others.

After a year of working from home, I have found engagement with an online community to be an antidote to social and physical isolation. Being an active member of a community has benefits to our mental health, addresses a need for social connection and engagement, provides a sense of belonging, and builds resiliency to adapt to new challenges together. We gravitate towards communities where we can bring our authentic selves and find acceptance. In community, we are never alone.

I found support from colleagues in my current staff role as part of the Queen’s community, but more so in contributing to the development of the first Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Queer staff at Queen’s. The Queen’s University Association for Queer Employees (QUAQE – pronounced “quake” – like an earthquake!) joined the Queen’s Women’s Network (QWN), Women in Science at Queen’s (WiSQ), and Indigenous Staff and Faculty Network as a formalized ERG. Thanks to the funds provided by Inclusive Queen’s (run through the Office of the Provost) QUAQE organizers now have the financial and institutional support to amplify the needs of Queer employees, but also to provide connections and formalized networks across the university’s campuses.

But let’s be clear, the individuals who formed these communities as ERGs did so from the side of their desk as unpaid labour – sometimes a labour of love, but more often work born out of necessity. From a critical geographic perspective, I see the creation of space for community as an opportunity to contest inequities, draw attention to a lack of representation, and amplify the voices of members often not heard or even invited to sit at a decision-making table. Fundamentally, in my opinion, the creation of QUAQE responds to an implicit heterosexual bias in the Queen’s workplace, but also serves as a reminder that 2SLGTBQ+ peoples are not formally recognized by the federal government as an Employment Equity Group (Government of Canada 2007). While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did offer a formal apology to 2SLGTBQ+ Canadians nearly four years ago (Prime Minister of Canada 2017), we have yet to see an official action plan, although one is in the works (Government of Canada 2021).

QUAQE was established thanks to the efforts of several staff, faculty, and student employees across Faculties and Schools at Queen’s, but could not have formed without a long history of 2SLGTBQ+ trailblazers in the wider Kingston and Queen’s communities. Janice McAlpine and Renee van Weringh spent seven years collecting a partial history of local artifacts to establish a timeline of events in the Kingston 2SLGTBQ+ community and broadly in Canada (1970-2010) now housed in the Queen’s University Archives (Huizinga 2019). Based on this timeline, the first group of Queer employees formed in 1973 under the title Queen’s University Homophile Association. Later, in 1977, staff member Chris Veldhoven created the guide known as Your Queer Community (Chris later helped form OutWrite: A Queer in 1996 to readers on Queer issues at Queen’s and Kingston more broadly (Queen’s Journal 2009)). The first Lesbian Video Festival was hosted at Grey House and 99 York Street in 1986, paving the way for the Working Group that established ReelOut: Kingston’s Queer Film and Video Festival that is now a featured attraction in the city (see ReelOut 2021). In 1993, the first Kingston Pride Parade was officially established, and continues today (albeit this year, celebrations are happening in September 25-26th, 2021 due to the pandemic) (Kingston Pride 2021).

I would like to acknowledge that these partial histories may not encompass the work of 2SLGTBQ+ Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Colour community members and that there are parts of Kingston’s 2SLGTBQ+ histories yet to be accounted (a future project could build on the work of Marney McDiarmid (1999) “From Mouth to Mouth: an Oral History of Lesbians and Gays in Kingston from World War II to 1980”). As a Queer white woman, I am working to educate myself of a broader history of Pride and 2SLGTBQ+ leaders and I would encourage others to do the same (see for starters: Forneret 2020; Living in Colour 2019; Notable Queer Folks n.d.; Secret Life of Canada 2019; Thomas 2021).

Whether you are part of the Queen’s or broader Kingston communities, or identify as a member of the 2SLGTBQ+ community, acknowledging the history and struggle that enabled this month to be a celebration must be part of the conversation. While there is much to celebrate, we’ve witnessed and experienced violence on and off campus directed towards 2SLGTBQ+ individuals and groups. Even in Kingston, there are folks who fear discrimination based on their gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. There is always more work in community building and strengthening to be done.

If you’re a member of the 2SLGTBQ+ community who works at Queen’s, be sure to touch base with QUAQE (quaqe@queensu.ca) and join the growing community of Queer employees.

With Pride,

Alex (she/her)

Works Cited

Forneret, Alica. 2020. Black queer voices mater – and these authors are writing a more inclusive future for CanLit. CBC. June 23. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/arts/black-queer-voices-matter-and-these-authors-are-writing-a-more-inclusive-future-for-canlit-1.5622932

Government of Canada. 2007. Employment Equity Groups. July 1. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-service-commission/services/appointment-framework/employment-equity-diversity/employment-equity-groups.html

Government of Canada. 2020. Be part of the LBGTQ2 Action Plan. October 1. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/free-to-be-me/lgbtq2-action-plan.html

Huizinga, Rachel. 2019. As Kingston Pride moved forward, LGTBQ+ community looks back. The Whig Standard. June 10. Available from: https://www.thewhig.com/news/local-news/as-kingston-pride-moves-forward-lgbtq-community-looks-back

The Journal. 2009. Student writing: a colourful history. March 13. Available from: https://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2009-03-13/student-writing-colourful-history/

Kingston Pride. 2021. Kingston Pride 2021. Available from: https://www.kingstonpride.ca/2021

Living in Colour. 2019. Being a POC in the LGTBQ2S community. Global News Youtube. August 22. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BembTFnOcrE

McDiarmid, Marney. 1999. “From Mouth to Mouth: an Oral History of Lesbians and Gays in Kingston from World War II to 1980.” Dissertation. Queen’s University History Department. Available from: https://ocul-qu.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=alma9911566043405158&context=L&vid=01OCUL_QU:QU_DEFAULT&lang=en&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=Everything&query=any,contains,From%20Mouth%20to%20Mouth:%20an%20Oral%20History%20of%20Lesbians%20and%20Gays%20in%20Kingston%20from%20World%20War%20II%20to%201980&mode=Basic

Notable Queer Folk. n.d. We’ve been here: Notable QBIPOC. Queer Events. Available from: https://www.queerevents.ca/notable-qbipoc

Prime Minister of Canada. 2017. Prime Minister Delivers Apology to LGTBQ2 Canadians. November 28. Available from: https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/news-releases/2017/11/28/prime-minister-delivers-apology-lgbtq2-canadians

ReelOut. 2021. Introduction: ReelOut – Kingston’s Queer Film and Video Festival. Available from: https://www.reelout.com/about/introduction/

Secret Life of Canada. 2019. Gay Asians of Toronto were pioneers of diversity in Pride. CBC. June 5. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/secretlifeofcanada/gay-asians-of-toronto-were-pioneers-of-diversity-in-pride-1.5162933

Thomas, Ashleigh-Rae. 2021. 3 Black Canadians on inspiring the next generation of queer leaders. Global News. February 16. Available from: https://globalnews.ca/news/7617443/black-canadians-next-generation-queer-leaders/

The future of gender will change Queen’s for the benefit of everyone

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In this post, Dr. Lee Airton, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, talks about how future students will drive change on our campuses, as they will expect the availability of gender and sexual diversity content and supports

 

The Queen’s community will change a great deal in the coming decades, in part due to changes in how gender (and sexuality) are lived. In ten years alone, Queen’s will have welcomed and graduated several cohorts of students who have grown up with the highest degree of familiarity with gender and sexual diversity – both individuals and cultural phenomena – that has ever been seen among the general population. Attitudinal studies have shown that knowing a queer or transgender person has a causal relationship with expressing less homophobic or transphobic attitudes, so we can expect a student body with far more exposure and lay-person expertise. For my faculty members as well as Teaching Assistants, Term Adjuncts and Graduate Teaching Fellows, this student body will expect gender and sexual diversity content in their courses. In fact, course content will struggle to keep pace with the sheer volume of everyday lay-person and internet-sourced knowledge that students bring with them into the classroom, such that instructors who do not update their teaching materials or invite students to actively contribute their lay or experiential knowledge will struggle mightily. I also predict that any remaining gender binary-based traditions that automatically divide men and women will become optional. An example is the tradition of only women students being offered a bouquet to hold by the professional photographer taking their graduation photo; soon, every student will be asked whether they would like to participate, regardless of how they are expressing gender. Students themselves will drive these changes, not just for themselves as individuals, but because social norms will have shifted to the point that this is just not done anymore.

In addition to students arriving on campus with more knowledge of gender and sexual diversity, Queen’s can also expect an increasing number of students who are openly somewhere on the transgender spectrum, whether men, women, or nonbinary people. Driving factors behind this increase include K-12 schools vastly increasing the resources and supports in this area, and more and more transgender-spectrum children and youth being affirmed in their communities, families and schools. This means that fewer transgender-spectrum youth will be homeless or will have to leave school in order to keep themselves safe. Given how family and other supports contribute to post-secondary attendance and success, we will see a boom, particularly in transgender student enrollment. These will be empowered, supported and self-advocating transgender students with parents behind them who feel confident showing up and making the kind of demands on the university administration and bureaucracy that most generations of transgender people just could not expect from our parents, sometimes because of estrangement and sometimes because of a lack of knowledge of us and our needs, but this is changing. The rise of singular they/them – using the traditional ‘they are’ to refer to a single known person – will also continue, and will quicken. By 2030, everyone who teaches courses at Queen’s or whose position includes direct contact with students will have worked with at least one but more likely 3-5 students who have they/them pronouns.

The inevitability of these changes is quite striking, but there is still work to be done to get ready on both of our campuses, east and west. Through the wonderful work of the Trans Policy Group, Queen’s has field-leading policies on gender-neutral washroom inclusion in new builds and renovations, but this has not been consistently followed. One glaring example, to my mind, is the Agnes Etherington Art Centre; despite being one of the landmark renovations on campus and constantly in use for university-related and external functions, the Agnes does not have a public, accessible, gender-neutral washroom. I have been to a half-dozen events there in the past two years and seen different approaches to rectifying this ongoing problem, including not at all. Another example is our student information management system, SOLUS, which offers a preferred name field for students to use if they choose, but preferred names are not included on instructor-generated attendance lists, rendering this well-intentioned change quite impractical.

These are just two areas that require comprehensive exploration and updating, building on the tremendous amount of work by people who have preceded me in our community, many of whom are still here making their mark. As the tide of increasing gender diversity – including but not limited to transgender-spectrum people – continues to arrive on campus and highlight what needs to take place, I am confident we will continue to rise to the challenge.

Together We Are reaches its fourth year!

Another successful year for the Together We Are blog! Thank you to our bloggers and readers who gave so graciously of their time, creativity and passion. Without your energy and support the blog would not be possible.

In 2018-2019 our blog will focus on (re)imagination. Contributors will (re)imagine the institution, space and dream for the future. Over the course of the next year you will hear from students, staff and faculty reflecting on the challenges and accomplishments of the past as well as their respective visions for the future.

Oh and don’t forget, YOU are part of this conversation as well. Together We Are all part of the Queen’s and broader Kingston community and therefore your comments and feedback are welcome.

Being Who You Are, Inside and Out

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This month, contributor Erin LeBlanc, Director, Strategic Program Development & Accreditation at the Smith School of Business and Queen’s alumnae, discusses themes of identity, authentic self, and belonging. Ms. Leblanc is an advocate for LGBTQ+ people with a focus on education, awareness, and building community for transgender people.

If I can’t be me, who am I supposed to be?

This is a question that I hear time and time again in conversations with transgender people. And with June just around the corner and communities preparing to host Pride celebrations, I am reminded of these conversations. Some people may be perplexed by this statement in that they don’t understand why there is such a great deal of stress for those who suffer from Gender Dysphoria.

They don’t understand why there is any issue with someone being transgender.

Good for them. They get it. They are enlightened.

However, if you don’t suffer with gender dysphoria, it is hard to appreciate what it is like.

People in the LGBTQ+, in particular the Transgender community, are, for the most part, terrified of how they will be treated if and when they come out. Because society isn’t as welcoming as some people think, or hope. There is still a great lack of understanding and compassion out there. There are numerous examples of transgender people losing their jobs, being evicted from their accommodations, and being disowned from their families. Essentially, they are disenfranchised from society.

And for what? All they want to do is live their lives. Do their jobs. Contribute to the community. But society stills feels threatened by transgender people.

Why?

Usually, it is from a lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender, to suffer from Gender Dysphoria. With some education, they start to be more accepting and can, in many instances, become allies. But many people out there in society still harbor resentment and a sense of confusion, or even disdain, for transpeople.

They refuse to be exposed to any type of information about what it means. How many times have I heard people refer to being transgender as a lifestyle choice.

A choice?

Seriously?

Ask anyone in the community. The last thing I would ever wish upon anyone is to have gender dysphoria. It is something you are born with. There is no choice. Gender is separate from the sex you are assigned at birth based upon a physical attribute. Gender is who you are in your heart and soul and mind. And that too is assigned at birth.

Who would choose to not be congruent in your inner and outer being?

To look in the mirror every single day and not recognize who is looking back at you. To suffer from the depression and anxiety attacks that accompany the dysphoria. To be out of control of your life. To simply be a passenger on the bus that is your life, with no real control over where the bus is taking you. That is frightening and at times debilitating.

A choice?

Not even close.

Think of it this way. You have a can with a label on it that reads “Peas” along with a picture etc. But inside the can, it is actually peaches. On the inside, it is peaches, but to the outside world it is peas. Nowhere near close to being congruent. We can’t change the peaches to peas. Not going to happen. That’s what they are, on the inside. Peaches.

But we can change the label.

That’s on the outside and that can be changed. So, we change the label. We have congruency. Now, people see a can of peaches and guess what. That is what it really is on the inside. All transpeople want is to have the outside match who they are on the inside. To present in the gender they were born with. For some this means surgeries. In some instances, numerous surgeries. For others, it means simply having their external presentation in the clothes they wear, and the way the cut or style their hair etc. match their gender. This provides them with a sense of congruency and hence peace with who they really are.

We are fortunate to live in a country that offers protections by federal and provincial legislation. For many employers, there are official company policies regarding the protection of transgender people from discrimination and humiliation.

And that’s great.

But the work is not done. We can’t take our foot off the gas. There is still a lot that has to be done. Policies are great. But without the processes in place to back them up and implement them, they mean nothing.

Organizations have to look at all the processes they have when hiring, promoting and training their staff to ensure there is understanding and awareness of these policies. More importantly, how it impacts their jobs so they know what to do when a transgender person is asking for assistance or simply wishing to purchase their goods and services. This means front line staff must be trained on what it means to be part of a positive space. To accept all people as equal, to treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their gender, race, religion, nationality etc.

Look, all the community wants is to live their lives, do their jobs and contribute to the community.

To live, love and laugh, just like everyone else.

 

That shouldn’t be that hard to accept. It’s not too much to ask.