A New Workgroup at McGill

In 2000, Stephen Déry, a PhD student at McGill, noticed several homophobic incidents which included an assault on a gay McGill student (just off campus) and the ripping down of posters advertising a gay dance on campus. As a student member of the McGill Senate and the McGill Joint Senate-Board Committee on Equity (JSBCE), he requested that the then JSBCE set up an ad hoc “Workgroup on Homophobia at McGill”. This was approved by the JSBCE on November 22, 2000.

The two goals of the Workgroup were to define and to evaluate the extent of homophobia at McGill and to propose mechanisms that would rectify the problem(s). The Chair of the Workgroup was Dr. Estelle Hopmeyer from the School of Social Work and the initial members were Professors Olivia Jensen and Shari Brotman, administrators Gregg Blachford and Claudine Lefort, and students Fraser Hall, Jeff Steen, Marlo Ritchie and Stephen Déry.

The Workgroup’s first meeting was February 8, 2001. One of its early decisions was to rename the group to become the “Workgroup on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Two-Spirited and Queer People” with a mandate to investigate homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia.

The group met several times during 2001 and organized:

  1. A training program (provided by the Ministry of Social Services of Quebec) to academic advisors and Student Services personnel for November 2, 2001.
  2. A Town Hall on “Is McGill Homophobic?” for November 14, 2001. The testimonies at that Town Hall (attended by over 75 staff, faculty and students) ranged from “McGill is an open, liberal and supportive environment” to stories of very homophobic behaviour with some people reporting that McGill felt like a very unsafe environment for them.
  3. A program entitled “Future of Queer at McGill” for February 8, 2002 with Jude Tate invited from the University of Toronto and Ann Kerby from Concordia University. They spoke on obstacles, successes and impacts of LGBTQ academic and support programs at their respective universities.

Official JBSCE Subcommittee Status

In April 2002, the Workgroup asked for its status to be changed to become the fifth subcommittee of the Joint Senate-Board Committee on Equity (the four other Subcommittees being Women, Persons with Disabilities, First Peoples and Race and Ethnic Relations). This was approved by the JSBCE.  Its mandate was:

“to address issues of representation, inclusion and support of LGBT students, staff and faculty at McGill University with respect to academic and non-academic life on campus”.

The first Chair of the new “Subcommittee on Queer People” was Gregg Blachford, the Director of the McGill Career & Placement Service who remained as Chair for six years. Many people contributed greatly to the success of this committee at this time and they included students Jennifer Drouin, Michael Lubetsky, Dima Dupere, Ren Haskett and Finn Upham and professors Shari Brotman and Olivia Jensen as well as people mentioned below. Additional contributors can be found here.

To celebrate this new Subcommittee, the first “Back to the Rainbow Reception” was held on September 27, 2002 in the “Ole’s Bar” in the basement of the Faculty Club as part of McGill’s annual Homecoming Weekend. About 40 staff, students, faculty, alumni and friends attended this event which has become an annual tradition.

The new subcommittee was meant to be an advisory group whose role was to give advice to the university on how best to improve the academic and non-academic lives of LGBTQ McGill faculty, students and staff. This proved difficult because, unlike some of the other subcommittees, there was no office at McGill that existed to carry out projects that it would have liked to have seen take off. The projects that were taken on over the following years were initiated and implemented in most cases by subcommittee members.

Initial Subcommittee Accomplishments (2002-2008)

The following were the main achievements of the Subcommittee from 2002 to 2008. 

Minor in Sexual Diversity Studies

The subcommittee started the ball rolling for a new Interdisciplinary Minor in Sexual Diversity Studies on January 22, 2002 with a “Forum for Development” for all professors involved in teaching courses related to sexuality and gender. Professor Brian Lewis and Dr. Elise Chenier took the lead on bringing the Minor to fruition culminating with its launch in September 2005. The minor was managed by the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies.

McGill Safe Space Program

After two years of preparation and receiving financial support through the Mary H. Brown Fund of Student Services, the McGill Safe Space Program was launched in 2005. Its purpose is to help create a campus that is free of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. Materials were prepared and dozens of workshops were held. The individuals who led this initiative included Elizabeth Meyer, Cindy Mancuso, Tara Sackett, and Cy-Thea Sand.

Collaborations with JSCBE Subcommittee Chairs

The Chair at the time, Gregg Blachford, initiated contact with the chairs of the other JBSCE sub-committees in order to “revitalize” that committee which had been somewhat inactive for 3 years. The chairs also shared ideas about how the subcommittees could better present a common front with respect to equity issues on campus. This alliance proved very fruitful over the years.

Names of Common Usage/Preferred Names

From 2004 to 2006, the subcommittee worked with the McGill Registrar to find a way for the “Preferred Names” of transgendered students to be used on McGill class lists, etc. instead of their legal names. The compromise was that both names would be used with the preferred name being put in brackets. This came into play in 2006 and information about the current Preferred Names policy is available here.

Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination prohibited by Law

McGill set up a Working Group on Discrimination and Harassment in 2004 which led to the creation of a new Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination prohibited by Law passed by Senate in December 2005. Gregg Blachford was a member of that committee. The subcommittee was able to ensure that not only “sexual orientation”, but also “gender identity” were included in the policy as bases on which discrimination was prohibited. The Working Group also established the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office in order to educate the McGill community on these issues. Gregg Blachford also sat on the hiring committee that recruited Veronica Amberg who, in the summer of 2005, became the Director of the SEDE office.

McGill Varsity Football Team Hazing Incident

In September, 2005, there was a widely-publicized hazing incident during the McGill Football team’s initiation activities that had strong homophobic undertones. Members of our subcommittee, including Elizabeth Meyer and Sean Waugh, were involved in changing some of McGill’s policies to ensure that such an incident did not happen again. The changes that occurred were:

McGill Employment Equity Policy

In 2006, Gregg Blachford was invited to be part of the committee that drafted McGill’s new Employment Equity Policy which was passed by Senate in May, 2007. In collaboration with the Chairs of the other Subcommittees, the subcommittee was able to ensure that “people of minority sexual orientations and gender identities” were included in the policy as a target group for recruitment and that phrase continues to be included in all McGill job advertisements.

Gender-Neutral Washrooms

The subcommittee, especially Jennifer Drouin, worked for several years to encourage the university to increase the number of gender-neutral/single user washrooms in McGill buildings. The McGill Planning Office did initiate a project in 2007 to convert several male/female washrooms into locked gender-neutral ones. That project was completed in 2008. The current list of such washrooms can be found here. The Planning Office also agreed that gender-neutral washrooms would be included in all new McGill buildings.

Homophobic and Transphobic Reporting Form

The subcommittee created an on-line method for informal and confidential reporting by staff, students and faculty of harassment or homo/transphobia that they experienced or observed on campus.

Past Chairs

2020-2022 - Hiba Zafran, School of Occupational and Physical Therapy
2016-2020 - Michael David Miller, Humanities and Social Sciences Library
2013-2018 - Lynn Kozak, Department of History and Classical Studies, Faculty of Arts
2010-2012 - Victor Fan, Department of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts
2008-2010 - Robert Leckey, Faculty of Law
2002-2008 - Gregg Blachford, Student Services








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