Pride Month on Ontario University Campuses

The rainbow flag flies proudly above many university campuses in Ontario this month. Most universities this year are flying the Intersex-Inclusive Progress flag, and some the Two-Spirit Pride flag as well. But what are universities across Ontario doing other than just flying a flag and making a post on Instagram? Although many students are not on campus in the summer—except for the hardworking co-op and summer students—some universities have a lineup of activities and workshops focused on celebrating pride and creating an inclusive and welcoming environment.


In 2022, Statistics Canada reported that 6.6% of Canada’s post-secondary student population are LBG, and in 2020, reported that almost 1% are transgender. On post-secondary campuses in Ontario, gender and sexually-diverse students are much more likely to experience verbal harassment, physical harassment, and psychological distress than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. Are Ontario universities doing enough to create safe and inclusive campuses for their gender and sexually-diverse students? As Pride Month draws to a close, let’s take a look at the events that were hosted across Ontario university campuses this year:


Western held an Alumni Pride event in Toronto, which was marketed as “an evening of learning and networking,” honouring and celebrating the diversity of the Western alumni community. It featured a speech from the professor of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies department titled "Gestures of Care: HIV, Memorialization, and Black Life during the 1980s/1990s.” This event can help 2SLGBTQIA+ students get connected with alumni who experienced similar struggles in their professional and academic careers.


Laurier hosted a Pride DIY Fair titled “DIY Pride: Art as Resistance and Celebration.” It also held a series of webinars focused on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues: Thriving on Campus, Beyond Hashtags and Rainbow Washing: Allyship in Practice and Rainbow History in Canada. These webinars can be very helpful for 2SLGBTQIA+ students to gain tools and resources to support them in their academic careers, as well as to learn about their history, culture, and activism. These webinars are also very important for non-2SLGBTQIA+ people and campus community members to learn how to create a more welcoming and inclusive space for their peers, as well as to learn the history of queer people in Canada—something every Canadian should know.


McMaster's Equity and Inclusion office organized a free virtual workshop on creating safer and inclusive campuses for 2SLGBTQIA+ people and communities. Their Faculty of Health Sciences organized an interactive webinar as part of an event to better understand and support 2SLGBTQIA+ members in a healthcare setting. The Student Wellness Centre put on numerous in-person events on campus including a Pride Pop-Up Table, Queer Trivia, and a Pride Social. These in-person events create opportunities for community engagement and take 2SLGBTQIA+ learning offline, outside of an academic sphere, and into community life.


Brock hosted a Speaking With Pride event, presented by Pride Niagara, which focused on how members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community can learn and network in a professional capacity. Professional workshops are very important to any marginalized group who faces disadvantages in the workplace. Queer students—and even along with allies and non-queer, non-students—can learn a lot and make valuable connections from the Speaking With Pride event. They also offered a half-day course, Introduction to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and joined in the aforementioned webinar hosted by Laurier, Beyond Hashtags and Rainbow Washing. 


Carleton holds its annual Pride Festival on campus in the fall, when most students will be around to participate. This June, however, it also participated in the Beyond Hashtags and Rainbow Washing webinar hosted by Laurier. While their Pride Festival is not during Pride Month, having it near the beginning of the fall semester makes incoming 2SLGBTQIA+ students feel welcomed and included at their new university.

Ontario Tech put on an It’s Bigger than PRIDE! workshop, focusing on improving workplace culture, and the Human Resources department organized Pride Pop-Up Parties throughout June. Most of us will spend much of our lives in the workplace, so learning how to create a safe and inclusive workplace culture is paramount to the mental and physical well-being of 2SLGBTQIA+ staff and workers.


Nipissing held a Pride Barbecue featuring a Drag Show in collaboration with the Equity Centre, games, snowcones, tie dye, face paint, and more. A community-focused event like a barbecue is an opportunity to have fun while celebrating 2SLGBTQIA+ history and culture, making connections, and engaging in community.


Many schools are doing nothing other than flying the pride flag for one month a year and maybe even painting a crosswalk with the colours of the flag. Given that gender and sexually diverse people face discrimination and harassment at far higher rates than their cis and straight peers, universities should be constantly striving for acceptance and equality on their campuses. Although some—but not all—universities are putting on activities during Pride Month, one month is not enough to properly promote the behaviour they desire on their campus. Carleton is heading in the right direction by putting their pride festival in the fall when most students are on campus and new students are entering for the first time. Making displays of inclusivity towards 2SLGBTQIA+ people when most students are on campus helps normalize queer presence on campus and does not delegate allyship to only one month.


Another step universities could take to further their pride efforts even more is directing pride events to the entire community. While making events online allows for more people to attend regardless of location, I personally find that in-person, on-campus events generate much more engagement from the average student. Putting events on-campus also allows for the event to reach people who may not have gone out of their way to learn about 2SLGBTQIA+ matters. Events celebrating 2SLGBTQIA+ history and culture, and addressing their challenges should be directed towards all members of campus. This way, straight and cis members of campus can gain an appreciation of queer culture and identity, which may help minimize the negative experiences gender and sexually diverse people experience on campuses. The best way to fight ignorance and bigotry is through exposure and normalization, and making in-person, easily accessible events on campus allows for the most exposure to the greatest amount of people. I would love to see this change implemented, as it would make university campuses brighter and more vibrant places, as well as help promote inclusivity for all.


In addition to events celebrating queer culture and history, it is important to focus on addressing the very real challenges 2SLGBTQIA+ people face in the workplace and during their academic careers. Hosting workshops such as Western’s Alumni Pride event or Brock’s Speaking With Pride event throughout the year would be very beneficial to graduating students. Placing similar networking events much earlier than June means that students would be able to use the skills they’ve learned and the connections they’ve made during the difficult search for jobs and internships. From my experience, these events can be incredibly helpful in the few months before your internship or job starts, so saving the events for Pride Month benefits far fewer people than it could. 


While the events put on by universities this month are a big step toward inclusivity on university campuses, there is still a long way to go. Flying the Pride flag and putting on some events during Pride Month is not enough to create a lasting change—we need continuous support and action during all months until university campuses are a safe and inclusive environment for all.