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McGill celebrates sixth annual Queer History Month themed “Other Worlds”

Throughout October, the McGill Administration’s Equity Department hosted its sixth-annual Queer History Month, which consisted of panels, meetings and networking events—both online and in-person—for 2SLGBTQIA+ people and allies. The theme of this year’s Queer History Month at McGill was “Other Worlds,” a concept that examined the role and integration of storytelling into conversations about violence and hatred directed at members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The theme sought to develop a platform for discussing how fictional, futuristic utopias can offer insight and serve as a tool for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals to process backlash,homophobia, and transphobia.

Nalo Hopkinson, this year’s keynote speaker and an acclaimed Jamaican-Canadian writer of speculative fiction, hosted an interactive workshop and a keynote speech where she promoted creative storytelling and writing as a cathartic medium to inspire interpersonal empathy. This workshop also illuminated opportunities for attendees to reflect upon how they navigate a time when the identities of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals are frequently stifled.

In the past few years, there has been a sizeable rise of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ and transphobic rhetoric and ideologies throughout Canada. Recent Conservative bills in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have advocated for legal preferred pronoun discrimination in public education and have sparked protests, including the “1 Million March For Children” initiative that strives for the elimination of gender-neutral safe spaces and washroom facilities in schools. 

Andrea Clegg, an organizer of McGill’s Queer History Month and an Equity Education Advisor of Gender Equity and 2SLGBTQIA+ Education in the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), cited the importance of creating empathetic spaces for 2SLGBTQIA+ members of the McGill community to express themselves freely.

“McGill Queer History Month events offer a way to come together as a community, to celebrate our talents and achievements and to talk about and share stories of strength and pride,” Clegg wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Within a context of increasing attacks on our basic rights as queer people, having celebratory spaces to gather and connect with each other becomes all the more important.”

One of the most popular events during the month was McGill’s annual Homecoming event, “Return of the Rainbow.” First introduced in 2001, “Return of the Rainbow” is an evening for 2SLGBTQIA+ staff members, alumni, and students to network and discuss the intergenerational support networks that arise within, and beyond, McGill’s queer community. Attendees were encouraged to share their experiences of queerness and transness at McGill over catered food and drinks in an informal, conversational setting.

In an interview with The Tribune, Shannon Wood, a queer McGill alum and a Sexual Violence Education Advisor at the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE), emphasized the importance of creating versatile, inclusive spaces for both students and staff.

“While there are a number of student groups on campus, queer-specific support for McGill staff is not as prominent,” Wood said. “Connecting with queer colleagues at events like Return of the Rainbow […] has been so comforting—especially during a time where parts of our society have taken steps backwards in regards to trans and queer rights. This reality is what makes the Other Worlds theme so timely, that we, both queer folks and allies alike, must continue aspiring to realities where we are accepted and safe to be who we are.”

In addition to Queer History Month events in October, McGill promotes diversity-focused workshops and year-round consultation support on its Equity website for 2SLGBTQIA+ students and staff members. These informational and supportive networks are provided through administrative and student-led organizations such as the Union for Gender Empowerment, OVRSE, and Queer McGill. However, despite the resources McGill promoted, alumnus Alexander Dow expressed the challenges students face in accessing the support systems offered. 

“Access to therapists and psychologists through the [Student Wellness Hub] is critically important, especially ones that understand queer issues and support them,” Dow said in an interview with The Tribune

“McGill already does have one of the largest networks for this. However, the system continues to see overwhelming demand that doesn’t meet the needs of all students. Increasing accessibility to these services and trust would be an area for improvement. Ultimately there are more positives than negatives in relation to McGill’s attitude, actions, and support for the queer community.”

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