The third edition of McGill University’s Queer History Month took place this October with a strong line up of events all connected under the theme “Love stories of solidarity and resilience.” The first of its kind at a Canadian university, this annual initiative offered an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the histories and achievements of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities at McGill, and more broadly in Montreal, Quebec and Canada.
The keynote address this year was delivered by esteemed transfeminine scholar and political analyst Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana. In her presentation “Decolonial Politics, Feminist Futures: Perspectives on Global SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics) Advocacy in the New Decade”, Dr. Weerawardhana emphasized the need to recognize the interconnectedness of rights issues: that decolonial approaches that omit a feminist analysis are problematic as are conversations in feminist circles that do not include an attention to intersectionality.
The importance of applying an intersectional lens to queer and trans issues was a re-occurring theme throughout the month including on the panel hosted in partnership with the DisAbled Women’s Network Canada on “Queerness and Disability.” When moderator Nelly Bassily asked “What does queerness and disability mean to you?” panelists answered that queerness, disability and race are intertwined which presents a lot of issues to manage all together and often results in people facing multiple oppressions and barriers. Bassily noted how the need to take care of each other is an important part of disability justice. Sharing resources and strategies on how to access services was one way those in attendance were able to come together to find strength in community.
McGill also partnered with Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute and McGill’s Black Students’ Network for a panel on “Black Queer and Trans Activism.” Co-founding director of the FreedomSchool-Toronto LeRoi Newbold emphasized the need to remember that All Black Lives Matter, including Black women’s lives, and Black trans lives. Newbold also suggested the focus doesn’t always have to be on changing systems, that you can create your own systems and spaces, for example, in the FreedomSchool’s class about ball culture, where they talk about trans legends Miss Major, Silvia Rivera and Moka Dawkins.
Award winning two-spirit poet and PhD candidate Smokii Sumac led a writing workshop titled “Love Poems for the End of the World: A Workshop and Reading with Smokii Sumac.” In this moving workshop Smokii asked “What does ‘love in the time of COVID-19’ look like?” and had participants write about what they miss most, and what was saving their lives during the pandemic and beyond.
The online environment provided both challenges and opportunities for the organizers. All events opened by honouring the unceded Indigenous territories upon which we all live and come together even if now at a distance. And although it was possible for people to join from anywhere in the world, organizers also recognized that online spaces posed barriers for persons without access to technology or for members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities who were now back in living arrangements where they may not have come out to their family members.
Reflecting back on the month, organizer and equity education advisor, Meryem Benslimane stated “We are proud to say we have centered Black, Indigenous, trans and non-binary voices at the core of our programming this year and for all our events. It is also very important to remember that Black queer and trans activists, especially Black trans women, have always been and still are at the forefront of advancing 2SLGBTQIA+ rights throughout history.”
Ideas for building capacity and resilience included developing allyships, such as by providing financial support to organizations and activists fighting rights abuses or to persons living on the margins. Musical artist Blxck Cxsper commented “When you are busy surviving – in the Black trans community – visibility doesn’t necessarily equate a pay cheque.” Natasha “Courage” Bacchus asked: “Are you ready to work with us to break down barriers?” inviting us to open up more inclusive spaces and reflect on our positionality.
A main takeaway from the month was the need to adapt during difficult times. Those leading and attending the sessions made it clear that the long history of members 2SLGBTQIA+ communities coming together in the face of adversity was evident again this month as participants connected and shared strengths and strategies. The central aim of this year’s McGill Queer History Month was to elevate the most marginalized voices within 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and in this light the month was a resounding success. As was the strength in continuing to create spaces, now virtual spaces, where 2SLGBTQIA+ communities can come together to learn, to connect and to support each other.