Imagine the following: You wake up on a Monday morning, and you have class at 11 a.m. It’s your only class today; would it really matter if you missed it? Perhaps it would be easier to stay in bed. Getting up has been difficult recently, anyways. Besides, if you did get out of bed, you’d have to face the ever-present look of disappointment on your parents’ faces. It’s been this way ever since you came out to them. They don’t understand. They don’t want to either. Sometimes you wish you never brought it up. Sometimes you wish you were not who you are.
It’s a dark picture to imagine, but it is also the reality for many in the LGBTQ2S+ community. LGBTQ2S+ people are five times more likely than heterosexual people to consider suicide and seven times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual people. These are startling statistics to hear and even more frightening to experience.
While some LGBTQ2S+ individuals are able to come out to their close circles of friends and family with the comfort of knowing that they will be accepted with open arms, others are not as lucky. This is where external supports offer a safe space to gain confidence and guidance in exploring one’s identity. For many university students, these external supports come in the form of groups and clubs on campus, as well as services administered by the school itself.
These supports create a sense of community. Community is essential to the human experience. We crave close connection with others, yearn to know that we belong, and feel loved and appreciated. This is especially important for LGBTQ2S+ identifying individuals because they face a unique set of hardships and circumstances, resulting in significantly higher mental illnesses and addiction rates. For this reason, the community requires additional services catered to their diverse needs.
UTM has various societies, organizations, and clubs for a variety of different interests. Among these groups, there are LGBTQ2S+ specific clubs and organizations. While UTM facilitators lead some organizations, others are student-led.
However, while these supportive services are available on campus, LGBTQ2S+ identifying students from UTM expressed their mixed feelings toward the availability and promotion of these groups.
Kiara Kim (she/her) a third-year student specializing in anthropology and minoring in geographical information systems explained how it’s not always easy to determine if UTM offers adequate support for LGBTQ2S+ students. “It’s hard to say because I haven’t heard UTM talk about LGBTQ2S+ support very much […] I do know about the Equity & Diversity Centre […] and the Sexual Diversity Centre, but I wonder if these centers are getting enough publicity for students to reach out.”
Similarly, another fifth-year student (she/her), in the professional writing and communications program, who preferred to remain anonymous also voiced that while there are a few UTM regulated organizations and numerous student-led organizations, they are not regularly promoted. As such, LGBTQ2S+ students are not aware of the services.
While UTM often promotes an accepting environment for LGBTQ2S+ identifying students, staff, and faculty, the practical and everyday interactions that students have on campus do not always reflect the same values. Kim discussed how discrimination is still prevalent on campus.
“I have been a part of student organizations where members used offensive terms to describe transgender, nonbinary, bisexual, and pansexual people. Because of these experiences, I refrain from openly expressing my sexual orientation.”
Additionally, the anonymous student voiced that while discriminative moments are not common on campus, “There [have been] instances when I’m in class and [the students] say something that is kind of [disturbing]. [However,] I wouldn’t say that I have felt excluded because of my sexual identity.”
The student who wishes to remain anonymous also went on to say, “I would be pretty naïve to say there isn’t [ignorance on campus] just like in any part of the world. [It’s visible in the way] professors talk in class and the way that staff and students conduct themselves in public and private spaces.” Despite this, she also says that there are “attempts […] to be more inclusive on campus.”
And she is right. There are a few UTM-led inclusion initiatives on campus. The Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Office (EDIO) provides several different programs and services to all staff, students, and faculty at UTM. These programs and services include multi-faith spaces, student equity resources, UTM Indigenous Centre, and U of T’s Positive Space Campaign.
U of T’s Positive Space is a campaign that seeks to create and identify safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2S+ identifying individuals across all campuses. In a statement to The Medium, the organization described its purpose to “challenge the patterns of silence that continue to marginalize LGBTQ2S+ students, staff, and faculty.”
However, despite Positive Space’s clear commitment and dedication to supporting U of T’s LGBTQ2S+ community, not many students are even aware of the campaign.
Moreover, the UTM branch of Positive Space admitted that “the committee was inactive for a couple of years.” So, it is understandable why many students are not aware of what Positive Space offers.
But with the addition of their new staff co-chair, Ignacio Mongrell, who has re-started regular meetings and has done work toward campaigns, Positive Space at UTM is looking forward to renewing their commitment.
In 2020, the organization is focused on “creating and planning events for LGBTQ2S+ members and allies to network and discuss relevant issues. [As well as] working with other departments at U of T and UTM to celebrate LGBTQ2S+ students, faculty, and staff.”
There is no doubt that UTM is actively creating safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2S+ individuals on campus. The question then becomes: is it enough? Is it enough to have one central EDIO for the entire U of T community? Is it enough for UTM to hold a campaign that goes unnoticed?
For Kim, the efforts that UTM is making to create a safe and positive space is enough. But could things be better? Yes. While there are organizations on campus that support the LGBTQ2S+ community, she says, “I think that when an institution shows collective pride and support in their oppressed identity, it’s incredibly empowering.”
The anonymous student also feels that there are plenty of initiatives at UTM addressing inclusivity and community. “[The] movement towards gender-inclusive washrooms are really good at UTM, [it shows a] good sense of awareness that this movement is needed.”
Gender-neutral washrooms play a considerable role in creating an LGBTQ2S+ safe space.
Sol (they/them), a teaching assistant at UTM in the Sociology department specializing in gender, family, and critical cultural studies, brings up the same concerns. While transgender individual’s needs are unique, “gender-neutral toilets [are a] visible presence of [a] trans-friendly community space, [and] support workers [specific to trans needs] on campus.”
If the question of “is there enough?” cannot be answered, perhaps we should ask: what else can be done? What else must be done to ensure that there are sufficient resources for the LGBTQ2S+ community?
An excellent place to start would be bringing in advisors and counselors who are knowledgeable in LGBTQ2S+ circumstances. “[The university needs to instill a] commitment to hiring people of those marginalized identities who are familiar with these issues,” said the anonymous student.
Kim explained that what UTM can do is encourage the community’s sense of pride and empowerment. To have differences celebrated and to ensure that these differences and communities are made more public. These are vitally important to the LGBTQ2S+ experience at UTM.
Sol also brings in some essential administerial suggestions, “There should be streamlined and simplified institutional processes for gender transition. [For example] it should not be difficult to change your sex/gender designation with the institution. [It should] not [be] difficult to change your legal and chosen names.”
Not all of these solutions can be made possible all at once. Implementing these resolutions would take time, planning, and consideration. But in the meantime, it is a great starting point to hear LBGTQ2S+ students’ and faculty’s concerns, create a safe space, and provide an open platform for the community’s expression and opinion.
And that is part of the beauty of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Despite the lack of resources, inclusive spaces on campus, and public awareness, we still find ways to voice our needs and opinions. And through this, we can form a community among ourselves that fulfills the essential human experience. One in which intimate relationships are created. One in which we are loved and appreciated. One in which we do not become just another statistic.Mercedes Mehling/unsplash.com