by: Cory Haslett
On November 28, 2018, the Sheridan Student Union Board of Directors passed a motion publicly affirming their support for trans and gender-diverse communities and the organization’s continued efforts in cultivating an inclusive space for students of all genders at Sheridan College. As an organization, the SSU stands by the values of inclusivity and accessibility along with our role in representing all students. While we support LGBTQ+ student groups and initiatives and collaborate with collectives in Sheridan and the surrounding communities, everything we do is not always evident to the student body. In times when public discourse can create unrest for students within these communities, more can be done.
What Brought Us Here?
In 2016, Sheridan College released the findings of their first Gender & Sexual Diversity survey, and the results were troubling. The experiences people were having did not align with what we know Sheridan strives for, and an absence of positive messaging can foster an unwelcome environment for some LGBTQ+ people on our campuses. This is not, however, an uncommon trend in many public spaces. Many public and private organizations stand by values of inclusivity and equity, and have internal policies in place meant specifically to support LGBTQ+ people. But these policies are not always clear, people working access points are not always informed, and in turn implementation of these policies can be inconsistent.
This is most prominently on display every Pride month: when a bank teller goes out of their way to use the wrong name and pronouns for a customer after being corrected, metres away from a rainbow logo; when a brand profits off Pride-themed merchandise, with little to no proceeds supporting LGBTQ+ charities; when corporations sponsor local Pride events, while actively contributing to the barriers LGBTQ+ people face in accessing healthcare. Creating policies intended to support and protect LGBTQ+ people and posting rainbow imagery to reflect those policies and values is important, but a disconnect remains. There must be meaning behind the symbolism. There must be consistency and easier access to the policies.
Despite the fact that gender identity and expression are protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and numerous health organizations recognize trans identities and support providing affirming care, some people still believe that gender identity is a debate. There is a wide diversity in how people experience and understand gender identity, and the words they use to describe it. While these concepts may be new to a lot of us, concepts of gender beyond a binary of male and female assigned at birth have existed for centuries across many cultures. Some cultures have had their practices and understandings stolen from them through history, and other cultures have been erased entirely. It is a further disservice to them to pretend that gender diversity is a new idea. There is much to discuss on these topics, but acknowledging and respecting that these diversities exist is a human right’s issue.
Trans people exist. They exist beyond Pride month. They exist beyond LGBTQ+ specific spaces. Allyship needs to exist beyond those as well.
It has been two years, and it’s time we further reflect on the results of Sheridan’s Gender and Sexual Diversity survey, and truly assess how we continue to address its results.
We need positive messaging backed by meaning, with education and enforcement of existing policies that create consistency. We also need to be more informed about the barriers trans people face, both on and off campus. Trans people exist. They exist beyond Pride month. They exist beyond LGBTQ+ specific spaces. Allyship needs to exist beyond those as well.
How You Can Be an Ally
1. Respect someone’s identity, even if you don’t understand it. You don’t have to, it’s their identity.
2. Challenge anti-transgender comments or jokes. They may be causing harm or spreading harmful stereotypes whether they mean to or not.
3. Sometimes it’s just about listening. When experiencing discrimination, sometimes trans people want to vent and sometimes they want to make a formal complaint. As an ally, provide your support, not judgement.
4. Learn more! You can find resources through LGBTQ+ organizations locally or online. Remember that all communities are diverse, so read a number of different resources and perspectives.
The motion passed by SSU’s Board of Directors two weeks ago is just one more step towards these larger goals. The SSU hopes to lead by example, that we value and stand by the rights and equitable treatment of trans and gender-diverse people. This is about being transparent and holding ourselves accountable to the actions behind our words. We will take this journey together with intent, thoughtfulness, and action.
- Cory Haslett, SSU Vice President, Trafalgar
To read the full press release, visit : thessu.ca/governance