Mcgill LGBTQ2I+ His­tory Month

“No­body Stops Be­ing Gay on Novem­ber 1st”

The McGill Daily - - News - CLAIRE GRE­NIER

con­tent warn­ing: ho­mo­pho­bic vi­o­lence

Mcgill is cur­rently cel­e­brat­ing its first LGBTQ2I+ His­tory Month. The month is organized by the So­cial Eq­uity and Di­ver­sity Ed­u­ca­tion ( SEDE) Of­fice, Queer Mcgill, the In­sti­tute for Gen­der, Sex­u­al­ity, and Fem­i­nist Stud­ies (IGSF), the Of­fice for Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Re­sponse, Sup­port, and Ed­u­ca­tion (OSVRSE), the Queer Grad Club, and other com­mu­nity groups. The events started on Oc­to­ber 2 with a soirée fea­tur­ing se­lected speak­ers at Thom­son House. Through­out the month, there will be events high­light­ing queer com­mu­ni­ties and their his­to­ries.

LGBTQ2I+ His­tory Month be­gan in 1994 in Mis­souri, at the ini­tia­tive of a high school teacher hop­ing to raise aware­ness of queer his­to­ries and strug­gles. Many ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions across both the US and the UK cel­e­brate the month, yet Mcgill is the first ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion in Canada to host an LGBTQ2I+ His­tory Month. Meryem Bensli­mane, the Eq­uity Ed­u­ca­tion Ad­vi­sor for the Of­fice of the Provost and VicePrin­ci­pal (Aca­demic) and a chief or­ga­nizer for the month told The Daily, “we’re re­ally proud of do­ing that, but also kind of sad that we are the first to do so.” Eve Fin­ley, one of the speak­ers and the Eq­uity Fa­cil­i­ta­tor at the Of­fice of the Dean of Stu­dents had the same con­cerns, “it’s cool to be the first, but it’s also like, what? We’re the first? In 2018? That’s pretty wild!”

Every speaker stressed the im­por­tance of hav­ing an LGBTQ2I+ his­tory month at Mcgill and rec­og­niz­ing these his­to­ries in gen­eral. An­gela Camp­bell, As­so­ciate Provost (Eq­uity and Aca­demic Poli­cies), said in her speech, “[At Mcgill] our sym­bols and iconog­ra­phy, the lu­mi­nar­ies and lit­er­ary canons of our re­spec­tive dis­ci­plines: none fully re­flect the cam­pus com­mu­nity in a way that ac­counts for all of our iden­ti­ties’ ex­pe­ri­ences.” Re­gard­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ac­cep­tance on cam­pus, she said “we’re not where we need to be, and the road be­fore us re­mains a long one [...] I don’t think any in­sti­tu­tion, Mcgill in­cluded will ever be in any po­si­tion to be able to say that this work is fully done; it is nec­es­sar­ily on­go­ing.”

Iain Blair, Vice Pres­i­dent of the Ar­chives Gaies du Québec (AGQ), a Mcgill alum and for­mer co­or­di­na­tor of Gays and Les­bians Mcgill (GALM) spoke of the dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to­wards queer peo­ple in the late 1980s. “I think it’s pos­i­tive to note that the in­sti­tu­tional en­vi­ron­ment has changed a great deal for LGBTQ peo­ple here,” he said. He re­counted a story of a GALM film show­ing which was in­ter­rupted by en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents wield­ing plas­tic guns filled with urine that they sprayed on the film­go­ers, and phys­i­cally as­sault­ing a few par­tic­i­pants. At that time, he said, there was no in­sti­tu­tional sup­port or ac­tion. “An event like this shows just how far we’ve come since those decades.”

The Di­rec­tor of IGSF, and a speaker for the night, Alanna Thain, spoke to the Daily about the last­ing queer his­tory and cul­ture at Mcgill. “[Mcgill’s queer com­mu­nity is] not new,” she said, “a great part of this project [has been] to go back and kind of find where those his­tor­i­cal fig­ures are at Mcgill [...] Some­times we just need to find dif­fer­ent ways to per­ceive some­thing al­ready there. That’s one thing that LGBTQ2I+ his­tory does re­ally ef­fec­tively; it opens our eyes to dif­fer­ences [within queer ex­pe­ri­ences].”

Thain also em­pha­sized the dif­fer­ent ways Mcgill can add more queer con­tent into its syl­labi, call­ing for an in­creased hir­ing of ten­ure track staff at IGSF. Fur­ther, she be­lieves that “[Mcgill has] the coolest IGSF fac­ulty out there! [...] I ac­tu­ally re­ally think that! If you look at the [kind of ] stuff that peo­ple are do­ing here [...] I know that peo­ple are do­ing amaz­ing work - re­ally in­no­va­tive work that’s mak­ing real dif­fer­ences in peo­ple’s lives.”

“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to look at his­tory be­cause it’s about cre­at­ing bet­ter fu­tures. We also think about this in terms of our stu­dents, [our fac­ulty and our staff ] the peo­ple who are very much keep­ing this tra­di­tion alive,” she elab­o­rated.

Meryem Bensli­mane echoed these sen­ti­ments ask­ing “if, in the cur­ricu­lum, there is a men­tion of an LGBTQ2I+ his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, to not erase the sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity of the per­son, [and] also to high­light these pi­o­neers of LGBTQ2I+ his­tory. [...]Here at Mcgill, there are a few classes where you can talk about queer his­tory, but in gen­eral, in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem here in Mon­treal, and in Que­bec, queer his­tory is of­ten erased.” Bensli­mane went on, “LGBTQ2I+ stu­dents, staff, and fac­ulty still have to nav­i­gate through dis­crim­i­na­tion, through sex­ual vi­o­lence, they ex­pe­ri­ence more ha­rass­ment in en­vi­ron­ments, more de­pres­sion; so it is still very im­por­tant to talk and to high­light the his­tory, and also the [cur­rent needs] of LGBTQ2I+ stu­dents, staff, and fac­ulty.”

Eve Fin­ley, who also runs the Rez Project se­ries, in-res­i­dence work­shops that ed­u­cate first year stu­dents on gen­der and sex­u­al­ity is­sues, takes very con­crete mea­sures in her work to teach queer his­tory. She ex­plained, “in our work­shop we start off with a queer his­tory quiz now. [This] is a fun, in­ter­est­ing way to get peo­ple to chal­lenge what peo­ple know about queer his­tory,” Fin­ley also men­tioned the “other ini­tia­tives on cam­pus that are try­ing to do that work,” and how “we just need to make sure that there is sup­port [for their ex­pan­sion] like [with] queer his­tory month, Rez Project, IGSF, and other things.”

The dif­fi­culty of ac­tu­ally dis­cov­er­ing LGBTQ2I+ his­to­ries was also a top­i­cal theme of the night. Iain Blair men­tioned the con­stant era­sure of queer­ness in his­tory, and how the re­cov­ery of iden­ti­ties came from grass­roots move­ments. “In the ear­lier days of the move­ment, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions be­gan gath­er­ing mag­a­zines, brochures, doc­u­ments, and many other ma­te­ri­als which were pur­pose­fully ig­nored, if not de­stroyed by a lot of the of­fi­cial in­sti­tu­tions of mem­ory.”

Thain told a par­tic­u­lar anec­dote about era­sure in her re­marks to the au­di­ence. Thain teaches a film called For­bid­den Love: the True Unashamed Sto­ries of Les­bian Lives, which de­tails the real and fic­tional lives of queer women dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s and is avail­able for free through the Na­tional Film Board of Canada. The film’s di­rec­tors found most of their ma­te­rial not from or­ga­ni­za­tions like AGQ, but from po­lice ar­chives. “It’s not just about know­ing our his­to­ries, it’s about know­ing how we get our hands on those his­to­ries as well,” she said.

Thain fur­ther called at­ten­tion to era­sure both past and present, ask­ing the au­di­ence to con­sider “the his­to­ries lost to the pres­sure of si­lence or con­for­mity,” and “what sto­ries are go­ing un­told right now.”

Most were also hope­ful about the fu­ture of this event and recog­ni­tion of the LGBTQ2I+ com­mu­nity. Fin­ley ex­pressed her en­thu­si­asm say­ing, “I hope it be­comes a reg­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion. The num­ber of peo­ple who showed up tonight, and the fact that this is a room full of 17-18 year olds, and 50 year olds, is re­ally fuck­ing cool be­cause we have so few spa­ces that are in­ter­gen­er­a­tional. [It’s so im­por­tant] for peo­ple in these com­mu­ni­ties to ac­tu­ally be in the same space and be able to talk to each other [...] I hope it con­tin­ues to be [an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional com­mu­nity gath­er­ing], and not just about his­tory.”

Thain too ex­pressed de­sire for the fes­tiv­i­ties and sen­ti­ments to ex­tend be­yond the one month cur­rently al­lo­cated to LGBTQ2I+ his­tory. “When you have a his­tory month I al­ways think the goal of it is not to end [on the last day of the month], but to make it a more present part of ev­ery­day life all year round. [...] No one stops be­ing gay on Novem­ber 1st.”

LGBTQ2I+ His­tory Month con­tin­ues all through Oc­to­ber, with more than 20 events planned. For a full sched­ule you can visit SEDE’S web­site.

The in­ter­views were edited for clar­ity.

“The fact that this is a room full of 17-18 year olds, and 50 year olds is re­ally fuck­ing cool be­cause we have so few spa­ces that are in­ter­gen­er­a­tional.[...] I hope it con­tin­ues to be [an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional com­mu­nity gath­er­ing], and not just about his­tory.” — Eve Fin­ley, Eq­uity Fa­cil­i­ta­tor at the Of­fice of the Dean of Stu­dents

Il­lus­tra­tion re­trieved from the Feb 28, 1991 Mcgill Daily ar­chive.

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