SFU Queer Collective’s webinar tackles 2SLGBTQIA+ rights in universities

Pride Month kicks off at SFU as panel looks to improve queer inclusivity on campus and beyond

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This is a photo of a pride flag, on a flag pole, blowing in the sky.
PHOTO: Sophie Emeny / Unsplash

By: Kaja Antic, Staff Writer and Kelly Chia, Peak Associate

On June 5, SFU Queer Collective held their first webinar since the organization’s revival earlier this year. The network includes SFU graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, staff, and alumni who hope to foster an inclusive environment for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at SFU. 

The online event focused on the role universities like SFU should play in creating spaces that welcome queer individuals, and combating the recent waves of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ attitudes across the country. The panel included Jude Mah, coordinator for the SFSS’ Out On Campus department, Jen Marchbank, SFU gender, sexuality, and women’s studies professor, Norma Lize, trans activist and communications manager for Rainbow Refugee, and Mackenzie Kolton, director of learning for Egale Canada.

“We know that in other provinces, the conversations around the queer community this year is not very positive,” Lize said. For example, the Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, announced numerous anti-trans policies for queer youth in February 2024. This included a wide variety of restrictions for trans and non-binary youth, “banning name and pronoun changes at school,” and allowing the option to forgo discussions about the 2SLGBTQIA+ in classes.

Lize emphasized the importance of educators making classrooms safe and inclusive, and how universities should be training faculty on supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ students. 

Speakers discussed “othering” effects in inclusivity curricula. Mah cited their own experiences of being othered while learning at SFU. Othering is a dialogue of “us vs. them,” made to exclude or insult groups of people. In the context of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, “feelings of otherness are fueled by the heteronormative structures” in society, which includes “the assumption that everyone is ‘naturally’ heterosexual,” rather than integrating the understanding that it shouldn’t be assumed whether someone is not queer.

 “We will always be here within these classes, so why is it not a normalized thing?” Mah said incorporating queer and trans experiences across curricula is more useful than confining learning to gender and sexuality classes. 

Kolton added, “Oftentimes when curriculums are developed, it’s developed about a community — forgetting that that community is often sitting in the seats that you’re teaching to.”

At the institutional level, Kolton added it’s also important for senior leadership to uplift and make changes for students. “Brock University comes to mind with their name change policy. They launched and created that pilot within a year,” she said, referring to the university’s policy that no longer charges students to change their name on their student card. It was brought forth by student organizing. “This isn’t the time to take five–six years to implement [policies protecting queer students.] We have to act now.” 

 “This is a larger systemic issue that involves partnership that goes beyond a pride presentation.” — Mackenzie Kolton, director of learning for Egale Canada.

Lize noted universities can “issue clear and strong public statements” and “engage with policy makers to provide expert testimony, research, and data that support 2SLGBTQIA+ rights.”

Lize also mentioned the need for an intersectional lens in post-secondary inclusivity efforts, especially for asylum-seekers and refugees in Canada. These communities have different accommodation needs such as specialized legal or mental health support networks, which are often inadequately supported by post-secondary institutions. 

Kolton noted where she sees these programs often fall apart is when the university is too focused on checking a box rather than long-term change. “This is a larger systemic issue that involves partnership that goes beyond a pride presentation,” Kolton said. To create lasting impacts, Kolton stressed working with and listening to queer organizations. 

“I’ve had a lot of international students who don’t necessarily have the words to talk about their identity, sexuality, or their gender, and they want to know themselves,” Mah said. “Growing up in small rural Alberta, I didn’t have the lingo that I have now, and didn’t come into my gender and sexuality until I was in university, so I think it can be really detrimental to students when we don’t offer that space for learning.” 

Mah added, “It’s really easy for universities to say they prioritize EDI [Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] and that they’re inclusive and that they’re for the rights in supporting queer and trans students but I think it’s putting it into practice and actually acting on these in good faith that doesn’t always happen.” They also note that it’s been challenging to find institutional support through SFU given recent budget cuts. “The people we used to go to answer these complaints to fix [ . . . ] they’re no longer here, or they’re at capacity.” 

Marchbank asked, “We get a lot of flag waving, but what happens in December?” in reference to a lack of year-round support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community from post-secondary institutions, saying combating bigotry is larger than an annual parade walk. 

“Prioritize what queer and trans students, staff, faculty are asking for,” Mah said. “At the end of the day, these are the most knowledgeable people. What their demands are, what their asks are — are pointing out the gaps in these systems. That’s where the universities should start with their policies.”

SFU Queer Collective hopes to expand the conversation regarding SFU’s role in fostering an inclusive community for 2SLGBTQIA+ people. 

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