Pride month in a time of solidarity —
As I begin to write this blog post, I am slowly being consumed by a feeling I haven’t felt for a long time. My palms are sweaty; my heart is beginning to pick up its pace; and my body is becoming fidgety, searching for the closest door to make my escape. The last time I felt this way was in my early 20s, when I hesitantly told my family and friends that I was gay. Twenty years later, I am a confident and passionate educator in the UFV Kinesiology department, who tells my students to push their own practice and make their professional lives meaningful. Now, I will take my own advice as I write this blog with an open heart about the importance of June, and the importance of Pride month to me and to the LGTBQ2+ community.
As a member of the LGTBQ2+ community, and as the co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, I have been reflecting on the importance of Pride month, as well as its historical underpinnings and key turning points that have led to the celebrations that are so important to members and allies of the LGTBQ2+ community.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade in New York, a movement that came of age in June 1969 during the Stonewall riots. The riots (or uprising, as it was also called) started as a violent push back by the patrons of the Stonewall Gay bar — most notably by transfolks and gay men of colour — who made a stand against the endless harassment, threats and abuse by police and laws that made homosexuality illegal in many states. Led in part by transgender activist and person of colour Marsha P. Johnson, these riots lasted for six days but began an upswell for advocacy of Gay rights in the United States and around the world.
In Canada, the Gay community heeded this call to action across the border and launched our own Gay civil rights movement against the discriminatory laws and actions of the Canadian and provincial governments, by the RCMP and by others in power. A historical snapshot of Gay discrimination within Canada is warranted and includes but is not limited to the following:
- 1841: The Canadian Criminal Code enacts the death penalty for anyone engaging in same-sex relationships;
- 1950s-60s: the RCMP is monitoring all known gay people in Ottawa and other cities, creating lists that were used to force people out of government jobs, or to deny security clearances and promotions;
- 1975: The Aquarius Bathhouse in Montreal is firebombed and three Gay patrons are killed — the perpetrators were never caught;
- 1985: Health Canada creates a policy that bans men who have sex with men from donating blood for life — to this day, Canadian Blood Services maintains a mandatory period of abstinence from sex that applies only to gay men.
Yes, as an LGTBQ2+ community we have made strides because of those who marched, wrote, lost jobs, lost relationships, fought and died for many of the rights we have today. We remain grateful for the following recent gains in human rights:
- 1969: Canada decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults through a Criminal Law Amendment;
- 1974: The first time homosexuality is not listed as an illness or disease in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual;
- 1979: Vancouver and Montreal host the first official Pride marches;
- 1990: The term “two-spirited” appears, allowing Indigenous LGTBQ2+ community members to reject and oppose western views of gender and sexuality;
- 2006: Same-sex marriage across Canada is legalized under the Federal Civil Marriage Act;
- 2014: The World Pride Parade in Toronto attracts 12,000 marchers;
- 2016: The Trans March held in Toronto breaks attendance records and marks the beginning of mindful collaboration with the Black Lives Matter movement;
- 2017: The terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are added to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.
For more information on these historically relevant (and very recent) events in Canadian history, please check out https://ccgsd-ccdgs.org/.
Pride month allows the LGTBQ2+ community and our allies to reflect, to remember the past, and to celebrate the progress that has been made, as well as to recognize the work that remains.
At a time when UFV and universities across North America are pointing to Equity and Diversity “initiatives” as evidence of our Anti-racism work, we are finding that this is not enough. Anti-oppression work requires more than statements and reports. As a lesbian faculty member who has been at UFV for 10 years, I have personally experienced homophobia at UFV and have heard many similar stories from colleagues and students, raising doubts about the sincerity and the efficacy of such initiatives.
That leaves us with the following questions. How can we take a proactive and purposeful approach in the hallways, classrooms, meeting spaces, and power structures in our University? How do we encourage responsible and time-sensitive discussions and decisions on issues that are important to the LGTBQ2+ UFV community? How do we become a place where “opinions” that dissuade, silence, or antagonize the LGTBQ2+ community — whether it’s in research, teaching, or other practices that are hateful and homophobic — are called out and dealt with appropriately? How do we move beyond LGTBQ2+ support and resources aimed at students, by students, to larger and more meaningful efforts that will impact everyone who walks the hallways at UFV? How do we disrupt our conventional and deep-seated understandings of a false gender binary that serves to inhibit understanding and acceptance for LGTBQ2+ folks? How do we as faculty make our teaching experiences meaningful to meet the needs of ALL our students within our classrooms to prepare them for their futures, not our pasts?
As I end this blog post, my body is beginning to relax from its flight response, and I am exhausted. However, I continue to fight passionately for LGTBQ2+ rights with a sense of purpose and responsibility. I have realized that this post has been 10 years in the making, and I thank Joanne (President MacLean) for providing this platform.
I have pushed my professional practice for three simple reasons:
- I believe so much in our students, that upon graduation they will go out into the world and do great things; and because of this, I will always look for ways to make their experience meaningful to their lifeworlds.
- I honestly believe in the University of the Fraser Valley’s mission statement: to engage learners, transform lives, and build community. Therefore, with profound optimism and progressive action on behalf of UFV, I know that the LGTBQ2+ UFV community will also see themselves in this mission statement.
And the most important reason:
- As a new mother of a 6-month-old son – a son who has two moms – I write this blog to keep myself accountable.
I’m pushing my practice by taking time to listen and understand, to read and to reflect, to discuss and to learn about all our learners at UFV especially those from the LGTBQ2+ community.
I encourage you, the UFV community, to do the same.
Joanna Sheppard, PhD
Co-Chair, President’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Associate Professor, Kinesiology