New LGBTTQ Advisor position brings high hopes for innovative program
By Pascal Zamprelli
Studies show that over 60 per cent of Canadians believe being gay or lesbian can jeopardize a professional career, and a full 28 per cent say they have witnessed hostile behaviour towards a homosexual person in the workplace. The statistics for school environments (high school and university) are equally striking: almost 65 per cent of LGBTTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual, or queer) students report being verbally harassed, and some 38 per cent report physical harassment.
These are just some of the startling things you might hear if you attend one of four scheduled Safe Space Workshops, 90-minute interactive sessions designed to enhance the acceptance and integration of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the McGill community.
“There are more LGBTTQ folks around then people realize and often even though most people have really great intentions, we can say things and do things that are harmful to others without realizing it,” said Tynan Jarrett, McGill’s new LGBTTQ Advisor. “That’s the point of this workshop.”
As an advisor, Jarrett is responsible for providing guidance to different units and departments that want to ensure they are acting in a non-discriminatory manner, and for programming events for the LGBTTQ community, such as monthly staff social hours at Thomson House, walking tours of the gender neutral bathroom, and the Safe Space Program.
Having worked in the community sector for the past dozen or so years, Jarrett arrived at McGill in February to fill the newly-created half-time advisor position, housed in the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office, and hopes the workshops, which have run intermittently since 2005, will know their highest attendance yet this year.
The very fact Jarrett is here will help make that possible, and marks an important victory for McGill’s LGBTTQ community, which had lobbied for the advisor post. “The idea that during this time of economic restraint, the Provost confirmed a new half-time position for this role was quite a big deal for us,” said Robert Leckey, a professor of law and Chair of McGill’s Equity Subcommittee on Queer People, who notes that the Safe Space program fits well with the new Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence, and Community Engagement’s mandate to indentify strategies to enhance engagement with diversity on campus. “Tynan’s position provides an institutional home for the Safe Space workshop, allowing us to increase the program’s outreach.”
Staff, faculty and student leaders who have participated in a Safe Space Workshop are then offered the opportunity to become Safe Space Allies and affix a sticker or magnet in their workplace indicating that they’ve completed the workshop and can provide helpful references or even just a listening ear.
“To make people feel safe and to let people do their best work, we need to have an environment that’s open and accepting, said Jarrett, who encourages anyone who hasn’t spent much time thinking about these issues to attend a workshop. They may be surprised by what they learn, and at the difference they can make.
“It’s worth it to take some time – just one hour and a half – to concentrate on it,” he said. “It can really change lives.”
The first Safe Space workshop is scheduled from 3-4:30 on Sept. 30th, and three more are planned for November, January, and March. For more information please visit: www.mcgill.ca/queerequity/safespace/.