June is Pride Month for a reason. On June 28, 1969, a group of queer and trans people, led by sex workers and trans women of colour, fought back against the New York Police Department who chose to raid the Stonewall Inn. Although the event was not the first time queer and trans people resisted police violence, the moment is often viewed as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement. As we gear up for the Pride Festival and Parade this weekend in Toronto, it’s important for us to remember that we celebrate this month to remind ourselves of this brave act of resistance made by LGBTQ+ people.
The queer and trans people at the Stonewall Riots exemplified what it means to stand up to bigotry and institutionalized violence. The ability of their actions to create transformative change over subsequent decades should motivate us to continue demanding more to ensure we achieve substantive LGBTQ+ inclusion. For OUSA, this begins with a commitment to continually advocate for the needs of LGBTQ+ university students.
In 2014, OUSA conducted an LGBTQ+ Student Experience Survey to get a sense of the barriers that LGBTQ+ students currently face at university. When asked about their biggest challenges, two of the most common answers from LGBTQ+ students were exclusion and ignorance. Although queer and trans exclusion can often appear subtle on campus, for LGBTQ+ students it is obvious and pervasive.
LGBTQ+ people continue to be underrepresented amongst faculty and staff. Student blood drives continue to be organized without an acknowledgement that the Canadian Blood Services prevents many queer and trans people from donating. Trans and non-binary students continue to face barriers to changing their identification on student records. Sexual health and sexual violence prevention initiatives continue to be heteronormative and fail to consider the specific vulnerabilities and contexts of queer and trans people. Gender neutral facilities, be it washrooms or residences, continue to be a rarity rather than an established norm. Public speakers who gain notoriety on the basis of their racist, sexist, heterosexist, and cissexist views continue to be granted a platform on campus and receive support from some students.
The list of exclusionary practices on campuses goes on. And when you couple this exclusion with homophobic and transphobic ignorance from students, faculty, administrators, and healthcare professionals, it becomes clear that LGBTQ+ students continue to face substantial burdens while attending university. During Pride Month we are reminded more than ever that the fight for LGBTQ+ people is not nearly over, and that the time to speak out is right now.
If you’re looking for ways to get involved, there is a province wide LGBTQ+ study being conducted this year, and the researchers are looking to put together focus groups (either in person or online). Participants receive a $25 e-gift card! If you’re interested, more information can be found here. Also, OUSA will be running its own focus groups this Fall as we prepare to rewrite our LGBTQ+ Students policy paper. Look out for those opportunities to share your experiences in the coming months.