A New Workgroup at McGill

Stephen Déry was a McGill activist during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s studying for his PhD. He was heavily involved with the Post-Graduate Student's Society (PGSS), the LBGTM (predecessor of Queer McGill), and the Queer Graduate Student's Caucus, while also writing for the McGill Daily. During his time at McGill, Déry had noticed several homophobic incidents on and near the McGill Campus, which included the queerbashing of a gay McGill student just outside of campus and the ripping down of posters advertising a gay dance on campus.

As the PGSS representative on the McGill Senate, Déry was at a Senate meeting on January 19, 2000 when he heard Vice-Principal Vinet give the 1998/99 Annual Report of the activities of the Joint Senate-Board Committee on Equity (JSBCE). After the report, Déry asked the VP if the then-JSBCE had ever discussed queer issues (which was probably the first time that word had been uttered at Senate). Déry described the homophobic behaviour he had witnessed at McGill and said that he believed that it was important for the committee to discuss these issues. Vinet answered that, since he had only recently been appointed as Chair to this committee, he would need to report back to a future Senate meeting on whether those issues had been discussed.

At the March 22, 2000, Senate meeting, Vinet reported that “in the memory of JSBCE members, the question of homophobia had not been raised at committee meetings; however, it will be discussed at future meetings.”

At a meeting later that year, the JSBCE discussed the issue of homophobia and agreed to set up an ad hoc “Workgroup on Homophobia at McGill” with a mandate to “to define, evaluate and investigate homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia at McGill and to propose mechanisms to rectify problem(s).”

This, along with a budget of $750 to pursue its mandate, 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”.

The workgroup organized several events that year, including a training program (provided by the Ministry of Social Services of Quebec) to academic advisors and Student Services personnel for November 2, 2001 and Town Hall held on November 14, 2001, on the question: “Is McGill Homophobic?”. The testimonies at that Town Hall (attended by over 75 staff, faculty and students) ranged from “McGill is a very open, liberal and supportive environment” to stories of extreme homophobic behaviour with some people reporting that McGill felt like an unsafe environment for them.

Another event was a workshop entitled “Future of Queer at McGill” in February 8, 2002. Because it was felt that McGill was behind other universities with regards to institutional recognition of the need for queer/trans support, Jude Tate from the University of Toronto and Ann Kerby from Concordia University were invited to talk about their experiences. They spoke on obstacles, successes and impacts of LGBTQ academic and support programs at their respective universities.

Official JBSCE Subcommittee Status

In December 2001, the Workgroup asked the JSBCE to become an official JSBCE subcommittee. This led to long discussions. The reason was that the JSBCE had originally been created at McGill to look at the four employment equity groups designated by the Federal government: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities. Since the LGBTQ+ community was not one of those designated groups, its request raised the question of whether, given its original mandate, the JSBCE could add this subcommittee.

In February 2002, the Senate Steering Committee indicated that the JSBCE could, at its own discretion, create its subcommittees without Senate or Board approval. On April 24, 2002, the JSBCE agreed to create its fifth subcommittee: the “Subcommittee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Two-Spirited and Queer People”. The subcommittee renamed itself the “Subcommittee on Queer People”, often shortened informally to the “Queer Equity Committee”.

At its meeting on May 15, 2002, the McGill Senate agreed to the proposal of the Senate Nominating Committee that Gregg Blachford, the Director of the McGill Career & Placement Service, be appointed as the first Chair of this new Subcommittee of the JSBCE. He remained as Chair for six years. Initial members included students Jennifer Drouin, Michael Lubetsky, Dima Dupere, Ren Haskett and Finn Upham, and Professors Shari Brotman, Brian Lewis and Olivia Jensen.

To celebrate this new Subcommittee, the first “Return 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 became an annual tradition.

This new subcommittee’s mandate was to be an advisory group 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.” This proved a difficult task because, unlike some of the other subcommittees, there was no office or budget at McGill to carry out projects that it would have liked to have seen take off.

Nevertheless, many projects were taken on over the following years, initiated and implemented in most cases by subcommittee members. For example, as the next section details, the group campaigned for an interdisciplinary minor in Sexual Diversity Studies, gender-inclusive washrooms, a Safer Space program, preferred names in class lists and the inclusion of the phrase “people of minority sexual orientations and gender identities” on all McGill job advertisements and on its employment equity policy.

Eventually the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office was created by McGill in 2005. Its Director was Veronica Amberg with Tynan Jarrett being hired to manage the LGBTQ+ portfolio in 2009.

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 initiated contact with the chairs of the other JBSCE sub-committees in order to “revitalize” the work of the committee, which had been less active 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 trans students to be used by McGill (e.g. in class lists) 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 further improved a decade and a half later, recognizing the names of trans and nonbinary students and moving to the designation of “chosen name”. Information about the current 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. 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. 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, 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-Inclusive Washrooms

The subcommittee, especially Jennifer Drouin, worked for several years to encourage the university to increase the number of gender-inclusive single user washrooms in McGill buildings (a project that the committee greatly expanded in 2023 to cover all single user washrooms and some multi user washrooms). The McGill Planning Office initiated a project in 2007 to convert several gendered washrooms into locked gender-inclusive ones. That project was completed in 2008 but it was known even at the time that more needed to be done. The Planning Office also agreed that gender-inclusive washrooms would be included in all new McGill buildings. A list of gender-inclusive washrooms at McGill can be found here.

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

Current contributors can be found here

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