By Kristy Koehler, October 7 2019—
On Aug. 23 the University of Calgary raised the Progress Pride Flag outside the Rosza Centre to mark the beginning of Calgary Pride Week.
Not all attendance at the ceremony was celebratory. Members of the student club Queers on Campus held up a sign stating “Your performative allyship helps no one.” Provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall acknowledged the sign in her remarks.
“We’d be mistaken, though, if we thought that pride began as a celebration,” Marshall said at the ceremony. “In fact, it began as a protest, and I’m so pleased to see that we have a gentle protest here today. It would not be Pride without it.”
However, in the university’s media sent out after the flag-raising, the protest is nowhere to be seen.
“What I think is interesting is Dru Marshall at the flag-raising saying, ‘We have people here that are protesting, and it’s great,’ and then it wasn’t even included in university media after,” said vice-president education and activism Meagan Bristowe. “There are strategic shots where I’m not in it, and you could tell the cameraman was doing that. Also — the whole statement. If Dru said it in public, why can it not be written about?”
Kelly Maskey, Queers on Campus co-chair, agreed with Bristowe.
“Their particular brand is not to show that,” she said. “Their branding is so important to them, and that’s why they’re working with us, I think. It’s when their public brand is at stake that they perform.”
Several incidents spurred Bristowe to ensure that Queers on Campus is more politically active this year, particularly a billboard with language that was viewed as transphobic erected on campus.
“I think that was kind of the height of my frustration with the university,” Bristowe said. “I felt that there wasn’t enough representation and meaningful inclusion before this — we were just talking about the lack of access in gender-neutral washrooms in all of our spaces — so it’s been ongoing from my experience at the U of C for four years now, but the transphobic billboard was kind of the last straw for me. When we brought it to the university, it was a lot of, ‘We didn’t know.’ And I don’t think that’s okay. I don’t think that people in charge of marketing and putting out all of the university’s stories should have so little knowledge and association with queer communities if they’re going to write about them. So, I’d say that was the catalyst and from there, just getting told that they were going to do better and then finding out that they didn’t do better.”
Meaningful inclusion is at the heart of what Queers on Campus say they really want. Bristowe said that the university continually tokenizes trans staff.
“We’re mentioned on some of the university relations webpages as endorsing them, but they never talk to us,” Bristowe said. “So, that’s a straight-up misfire on their part. They can’t state that we’re endorsing them if they haven’t talked to us.”
Maskey said that Queers on Campus asked the organizers of the Pride Parade to situate their entry away from the university’s.
“Not last year but the year before, they put our entry right beside the university’s entry and we just were swallowed,” said Maskey. “You couldn’t tell we were there. That’s why last year we requested to be physically separate from other entries, because our identity as an independent organization is pretty important.”
Maskey continued to stress the importance of Queers on Campus’s organizational independence.
“It’s something people aren’t aware of — they think that we’re the same thing as the Q Centre, they think we’re part of the university, and we do get certain supports from the SU, but we really are outside of the university’s machinery and it’s important that we be. It’s important that people know that we are.”
When asked what kinds of things have been brought to the university’s attention that haven’t been acted on, Bristowe cited the language used in UToday. They say gender and sex are continually conflated. Bristowe was consulted on the Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure (ODEPD) language guide and is disappointed that it isn’t being used appropriately.
“I think that there’s not enough oversight from the people that have told us there’s going to be change to the people that are on the ground doing the work that is actually getting published,” Bristowe said. “I don’t know what needs to happen, but something obviously isn’t being managed properly if it continues to happen.”
When mistakes happen, Bristowe and Maskey said they’re looking for genuine apologies, not just lip-service. And, they added, the apologies should be public.
“They don’t say sorry, just that they’re good allies. And saying it doesn’t make it so,” said Maskey.
“They’re perfectly happy to apologize when it’s just two people sitting at a table, but heaven forbid that they make that visible to anyone other than the person that they’re apologizing to,” added Bristowe. “There’s no accountability outside of that interpersonal relationship — to keep an apology secret is not an effective apology.
“I think seeing a change of diversity in their hiring — I mean, one of the reasons these things keep happening is because they have a bunch of cis white dudes in these top positions that have no context for what’s going on in the real world. They don’t know queer people personally, and if they do, that’s one employee that they consult regularly. So I think moving forward the university needs to commit to that type of action,” said Bristowe.
“There’s a large amount of unpaid labour that queer staff end up doing,” said Maskey, noting that these staff members sit on committees, proofread work and are “the go-to ethics approval for queer ethics. […] They basically have a second job as a queer educator — find a way to pay them for the work you’re asking them to do! That’s something that the university needs to look in the mirror about — the degree they’re leaning on a marginalized staff to do a second, unpaid job.”
Queers on Campus intends to take a more activist approach to queer issues on campus this year, citing the political climate.
“The provincial election and the upcoming federal election are at the forefront of our minds,” said Bristowe. “Also, looking at what we can offer the campus that the Q Centre can’t. That’s something that’s needed, and that’s something that we’re going to do.
“We want to be bulldogs,” they continued. “We want people to know that if students are experiencing things — and I know the Q Centre is a safe space to be in — but if they want to go beyond that and need someone to stand with them, I’m willing. And I know that given our collective capacity, Queers on Campus is definitely able to stand behind people.”
In an emailed statement, Marshall responded that “the University of Calgary values inclusion, community and intersecting identities and we are committed to ensuring our campus is safe, welcoming and supportive for all students, faculty and staff.
“The UCalgary community works to make everyone feel welcome, safe, respected and valued regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” the statement continued. “We know that members of the gender and sexually diverse (GSD) community face harassment and even violence, and we must all work together to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff.”
Marshall’s statement offered a list of “several resources for GSD communities on campus” and they are printed below:
“The Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure (ODEPD) serves as a centralized resource to all members of the university community and provides training and awareness-raising initiatives regarding issues of equity and diversity.
“Student Wellness Services offers comprehensive, holistic and accessible programs and services to foster all dimensions of wellness.
“The Q Centre is a resource for the student GSD community that provides a safe space for those who need it while also offering resources, peer support and volunteer opportunities.
“Queers on Campus is a volunteer organization supporting the principle that all people should be treated with dignity, whatever their sexual orientation or gender expression.
“We have a sexual violence support advocate on campus, Carla Bertsch, who is available for consultation and support.”
Queers on Campus has said they will not give up until real change happens.