Queer History Month 2020: Love stories of solidarity and resilience

Month-long programming will focus on some of the marginalized and under-represented groups even within the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities

In ‘normal’ times, McGill’s Queer History Month (QHM) is about connections – fostering links between marginalized groups and society in general and campus life in particular.

These are not normal times.

The program kicking off on October 1, for the 3rd annual McGill QHM will still be about connections – but virtual connections. Happenings will be entirely online, including the five main events. Virtual workshops, panels, community events and get-togethers over the month-long program will be held under the general theme of “Love stories of solidarity and resilience.”

Queer History Month organizer Meryem Benslimane, Equity Education Advisor in the Office of the Provost, said that one of the main goals of this year’s events is to shine a light on the most frayed of those connections, suffered by some of the  marginalized and under-represented groups even within the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities: transgender and non-binary McGill students, staff and faculty.

“I’m specifically thinking of Black queer and trans students,” Benslimane said. “With everything that’s happening with the global anti-Black racism, it’s really overwhelming for them.”

“Going online, the challenge we had was how can we still keep those spaces of learning, of connection, of solidarity, especially in this context of global crises.”

Benslimane said it was important to host an event specifically focusing on Black trans and queer activists, who are already physically isolated by COVID-19 restrictions. A panel will be held on October 20, in collaboration with the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and McGill’s Black Students’ Network.

“The idea is to try to create spaces for the even more marginalized and isolated voices within the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities,” she noted.

Queerness and disability

QHM also includes programming for another marginalized group: queer people with disabilities. The closing event will be a panel on queerness and disability on October 29.

“We had workshops about that topic in the first two editions (of QHM) but we didn’t have a proper panel discussion and we felt it was time to have an event focusing on the intersection of queerness and disability, because it’s often erased or not talked about enough.”

The panel is held in partnership with the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN) and the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity’s (JBSCE) Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities.

Technology to the rescue

One advantage offered by technology is the expanded ability to participate in events, Benslimane added.

“You don’t have to be in the same room – you don’t even have to be in Montreal. We worked  really hard to improve accessibility – including providing live captioning (in English) at events and ASL interpretation” for the hearing-impaired.

‘Virtual doors’ will allow participants to sign in prior to events and chat together, simulating an in-person experience.

Building on Launch of the Rainbow momentum

Benslimane says she was encouraged by last June’s Launch of the Rainbow event celebrating graduating 2SLGBTQIA+ students.

“Working so hard and then not being able to celebrate (graduating) – that’s tough. So, we were able to celebrate it online, and people still came. Principal (Suzanne) Fortier and several people from the administration were also there in support.”

The Return of the Rainbow, McGill’s Queer Homecoming event, where alumni connect with current students, staff and faculty, will be part of the launch on October 1.

Inter-generational event

“Return of the Rainbow is McGill’s Queer homecoming event, and it is a fantastic and intergenerational space, where 2SLGBTQIA+ alumni, students, staff and faculty gather, with straight and cisgender allies showing their support,” said Benslimane. “Virtual doors open at 4 pm, and people slowly find connections. Alumni often recognize each other. That’s really a great, great space. Angela Campbell (Associate Provost, Equity and Academic Policies), will say a few words, along with Hiba Zafran, the new chair of the JBSCE’s Subcommittee on Queer People.”

The opening ceremony on October 1,  will officially launch a full month of programming, at which notable alumnus Alan Emtage will receive a Pride Award for his groundbreaking work as the creator of world’s first search engine.

Before Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Bing, there was Emtage. The Barbados native earned two computer sciences degrees from McGill in the 1980s. Little known outside of the international web technical community, he is truly a pioneer, and if prone to self-promotion, would merit a much higher profile, having created the Internet’s very first search engine, Archie in 1990. Now chief technical officer of New York-based Mediapolis, a web engineering firm, he is an LGBTQIA+ activist who ascribes his interest in technology to his isolation as an LGBTQIA+ child.

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana of Sri Lanka, a trans feminist and LGBTQIA+ rights activist, scholar and researcher, will give the keynote address on October 7, (see topic below).

Two-spirit poet Smokii Sumac will host a writing workshop and reading (see topic below) on October 14.

Strong administration support

Universities have taken a financial hit from COVID-19 and Benslimane said she was concerned about the program’s budget during planning, but needn’t have worried.

“The University provided really strong support financially, including during planning. They also showed strong support by being present at (various pre-month) events. We’re also going to have a few speeches by administration people.”

“It’s amazing to see that support, it’s very encouraging and stimulating.”

For her part, Associate Provost Campbell said she was “delighted to be part of McGill’s annual Queer History Month… While equity work is necessarily forward-looking with a view to ongoing advancement, we cannot lose sight of the importance of knowing our histories.”

Queer History Month is planned by the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). Its partners include the JBSCE’s Subcommittee on Queer People, McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE), Queer McGill, The Queer Grad Club and the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE).

The following are the five main events for Queer History Month 2020:

  • The Opening Ceremony/Return of the Rainbow: October 1, 4:30 – 6 pm.
  • The keynote presentation entitled ‘Decolonial Politics, Feminist Futures — Perspectives on Global SOGIESC Advocacy in the New Decade’, by Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana: October 7, 6 – 8 pm.
  • Love Poems for the End of the World — A Workshop and Reading with Smokii Sumac: October 14, 12 – 1:30 pm.
  • Black Queer and Trans Activism (With the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and BSN): October 20, 6 – 8 pm.
  • Queerness and disability (With DAWN Canada): October 29, 6 – 7:30 pm.

Get the complete Queer History Month schedule and other information on the Equity at McGill website or on the QHM Facebook page.