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 2SLGBTQI+ 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and join the growing community of Queer employees.
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/