SFU staff and faculty have been receiving a crash course on the LGBTQ+ community and issues thanks to Out on Campus’ Positive Space Network Program. As SFU’s LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Out on Campus has developed an hour-long workshop in which they work with SFU faculty and staff to build up a greater knowledge of the queer community, starting from ground zero up to current issues and techniques on navigating what can be sensitive topics with students.
The idea of the Positive Space Network workshops was originally introduced a few years ago as a series of three-hour long sessions aimed at SFU students. Last summer, however, the workshop was re-worked as an hour-long program to make it more accessible.
“Primarily right now, [the workshop] is aimed at staff members, but hopefully down the road we can get students involved too,” said Kyle McCloy, Out on Campus’ current volunteer and program co-ordinator.
The sessions begin by laying the basic groundwork required to understand the LGBTQ+ culture, and then move into specifics depending on which department is in attendance. McCloy outlined the general structure of the workshops: “They always start with kind of basics, like ‘what does LGBTQ mean? Why is important to talk about this in the context of SFU and SFU students?’”
“Some folks have never even gotten a definition of what transgender means.” – Kyle McCloy, Out on Campus’ volunteer and program co-ordinator
After the basics, the workshops are more tailored towards what the staff has requested or identified as issues in their department. McCloy recounted a workshop he’d done with Student Central, a department that oversees campus tours, which had specifically asked on how to deal with parents on tours who make homophobic comments. In a workshop with Student Services, which provides a large range of services such as academic advising and facilitating co-op placements, staff were interested in how to conduct better face-to-face interactions with queer students in the context of preferred gender pronouns.
Since McCloy has joined the Out on Campus team last summer, he’s reported doing an average of two workshops a month. The workshops have proven to be popular among SFU’s various departments, according to McCloy. “People are asking for it by name, or they might have heard it off hand,” he said. “Often, it’s people asking, ‘hey, we know your work and we want to gain some queer knowledge, what do you folks have to offer?’”
The content shared in the Positive Space Network workshops is an accumulation of knowledge that Out on Campus has built up throughout the years substantiated by the most recent statistics, surveys, and research. As someone who has worked in the field of active bystander training and creating inclusive spaces, McCloy brings both his professional and personal experience to share.
“There’s always a range of knowledge,” said McCloy. “Some folks are well-versed with everything to do with the queer community. Some folks have never even gotten a definition of what transgender means.” To bring everyone up to speed together, the workshops begin at square one and McCloy makes sure to emphasize that “there are no dumb questions.”
“One person asked what it was like with gay dating apps. So it’s sort of like asking those questions that people are afraid to ask because sometimes it’s awkward to ask or admit that you don’t know what something is.”
When asked for his perspective on SFU’s environment towards gender and sexual diversity, McCloy responded, “Since I was a student here, it’s definitely improved.” He noted the university’s effort to construct more gender-neutral washrooms, the inclusion of gender programs on intake forms, and students being given the option to change their gender on their official record. But he also noted that, while policy changes are coming down the pipeline, they’re doing so fairly slowly.
A major concern McCloy has heard from students is pronoun usage in classrooms, and how to have the conversation of one’s preferred gender pronouns with a professor. He also brought up SFU’s social culture, which he admitted can sometimes be a hard place to build social connections in.
“If people feel disconnected from their community, it’s a continuous question of ‘where do I find people like me?’” To that end, McCloy and the rest of the staff and volunteers of Out on Campus are working to make their space, and ultimately the rest of SFU, a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community to find each other and connect.