Voices from our 2SLGBTQ+ community: Robert Leckey

As part of our series of Q&As to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, we speak with Robert Leckey, Dean of the Faculty of Law
Robert Leckey, Dean of the Faculty of Law

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The day was created was created in 2004 to draw the attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.

It also offers people an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of building more inclusive communities, including here at McGill.

“Having a more diverse and inclusive campus community means there is the potential for all to thrive at McGill,” says Andrea Clegg, Equity Education Advisor, Gender Equity and 2SLGBTQ+ Education. “Having more diverse experiences actively represented on our campuses enhances and enriches the University’s core activities of research, teaching, and service to the broader society.”

“We need to continue to work towards building a campus environment where all students, staff, and faculty – including members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities – can reach their full potential. I don’t think work in this area will ever be finished, and we also need to remain vigilant in ensuring that progress on 2SLGBTQ+ issues made thus far remains in place,” says Clegg.

Series of Q&As

To mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, the Reporter has prepared a series of Q&As with staff and faculty members of McGill’s 2SLGBTQ+ community. We asked them about everything from their personal experiences as students – and later staff and faculty – who identify as 2SLGBTQ+, to the efforts McGill is making to support 2SLGBTQ+ people, to how instructors can make their classrooms more inclusive.

“Building an inclusive campus community means marking internationally recognized days of significance that honour the experiences of diverse social groups that have faced adversity in higher education contexts. These commemorative efforts must centre the voices and experiences of McGillians who are members of those communities,” says Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies).

“For that reason, I am so pleased that colleagues who are members of our 2SLGBTQ+ community at McGill have agreed to share their perspectives as we mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia 2022. Their insights show that, while McGill is making strides in relation in relation to advancing EDI, we still have much important work left to do.”

Robert Leckey

Robert Leckey, Ad. E., is Dean of the Faculty of Law, where he teaches constitutional law and family law. He served as director of the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law from August 2014 to June 2016.

From 2002 to 2003, he served as law clerk for Justice Michel Bastarache of the Supreme Court of Canada. From 2003 to 2006, he undertook doctoral studies in law at the University of Toronto as a Trudeau scholar. His dissertation, which received the Alan Marks Medal for best graduate thesis in 2006, was published as Contextual Subjects: Family, State, and Relational Theory, by University of Toronto Press in 2008. He joined McGill’s Faculty of Law in July 2006 and was named a William Dawson Scholar in 2011.

Leckey has been a member of the Law Society of Ontario since 2003 and an advocate of the Barreau du Québec since 2020. From 2017 to 2020, he was a solicitor of the Barreau du Québec. From 2008-2011, he chaired the McGill Equity Subcommittee on Queer People. In 2010-2011, he served as director of research for the Inquiry Commission on the Process for Appointing Judges (the Bastarache Commission). From 2011 to 2015, he was the president of Egale Canada. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired its Legal Issues Committee. In 2020, he began a term as president of the Council of Canadian Law Deans.

What are some of the ways in which the McGill community is promoting EDI, especially in relation to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion?

Not that long ago, we were fighting just to get preferred names on the class lists. That’s finally been dealt with so that professors now see people’s preferred names.

I think work has been done to make sure there are bathrooms that people feel safe using. Again, not that long ago, just trying to get a single-user washroom in a building was a big deal for someone who didn’t feel safe going into a gendered washroom.

In both a challenging and wonderful way, the frontiers keep moving. Some of the gay and lesbian issues may be dealt with, and trans members of the McGill community or nonbinary people may be pushing us further on other fronts.

What still needs to be done?

Some things are hard to change. I think everybody applying to the University, by the government rule, still has to tick an M box or an F box. For some people that’s like hitting a wall. They say ‘oh, I’m going to have to squeeze myself into something that isn’t me in order to apply to McGill.’

If you are comfortable with the gender assigned to you at birth and the name assigned you, it can be hard to grasp how big a deal it is for people who have experienced a kind of assault on themselves – to have to pretend to be someone else or declare themselves as someone else. There’s still work to do on that.

Thinking back to when you were a student, how much progress – if any – has there been in making classrooms more inclusive to 2SLGBTQ+ students?

There has been huge progress made since I was a student.

Honestly, as a student I remember if gay or lesbian issues came up twice in a course I’d think “why are we obsessing on this?” because the norm was that you saw nothing.

It’s much more present now. And I think instructors are much more aware of their language and the examples they use.

How can professors make their classrooms more inclusive of diverse lived experiences among our students?

The kinds of examples you use in your class are really significant. When you are teaching tax is it always a different sex couple who buys that house and sells the business or can you seamlessly integrate a range of different people?

Ideally, 2SLGBTQ+ people appear in your teaching without it involving 2SLGBTQ+ issues. It’s just two dads crossing the border who are having trouble with their kid’s passport – and not about them being gay. At the level of real integration it’s present without being noticed.

Do we need to make space to discuss sexual or gender identity in the workplace and/or in the classroom? Why is this important?

When I was chairing the Equity Subcommittee on Queer People, I was reminded that there are many McGills. In my own Faculty, as a relatively privileged professor, there was no concern about being out. Everyone knew about me and my partner.

But there were still staff members on the Subcommittee who didn’t want to be out in their workplace at McGill. And that was just over 10 years ago.

I guess it’s a reminder that McGill is so many little places. I think that the change is probably uneven and that there is still some work to do in some environments. There are still people who probably don’t feel safe being themselves as they would like to at work.

Is there anything you would like to add?

When I became Dean in 2016, I had no idea what it would be like to be out as a Dean. There has been no issue ever. I go to the Mount Royal Club for Convocation dinner, I meet 85-year-old white donors from Westmount and no one bats an eyelid when I introduce them to my husband. It has been surprising in that sense for me, in a very good way.