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Queer at a crossroads

How Queer McGill struggles to bridge the gap between community and political needs

Q ueer McGill is faced with the challenging mandate of providing “a space for queer people…that includes queer students of all stripes,” according to the organization’s Co-Administrator Ryan Thom. The student group has big shoes to fill; as former Queer McGill Co-Administrator Samantha Cook noted, “Queer is such a huge word, it can mean so many things to so many different people.”

Queer McGill (QM) started in 1972, as Gay McGill, when there was a strong need for a radical queer voice on campus, but as the queer community in Montreal has diversified and become more accepted, QM has shifted its focus toward providing community support for students. In its efforts to be as inclusive as possible, however, the group seems to have alienated students who would like to see the organization take more radical political action.

“They don’t have as much of a radical take as some members of the queer community would hope,” noted U3 Women’s Studies student Sam Chrisanthus. “They see Queer McGill as a space that shouldn’t get too political for fear of alienating some members who shouldn’t be forced to leave the group because their own beliefs don’t match those which might be ascribed to Queer McGill.”

Current QM Resource Coordinator Grace Khare sees things differently. “The more radical we are, the more polarizing we are to our community,” she explained. Thom insists that this issue is not just a philosophical one, but a matter of QM’s responsibility to the students who fund this service through their student fees, “to serve as wide a constituency as possible.” He contended that, “If being radical means taking a stance that alienates and offends newcomers, if it means compromising the safer space that we worked hard to create, then no, we will probably never be radical enough.” His Co-Administrator Parker Villalpando clarified that QM is open to funding projects, “from all different stripes…as long as we’re in our mandate.”

According to Cook, there are critics who believe that “Queer McGill is useless and not political at all.” Cook still believes, though, that if a situation arose in which the organization needed to function as a strong political voice, it has the ability to do so. “Queer McGill is really important because it has the possibility to mobilize. It’s not Stonewall, we don’t need people to fight [revolutionary] battles for us, but I think it’s still important to be visible,” she said.

Current QM executive members see the organization’s primary role as a source of support for its constituency. Thom believes the organization is a place for queer students, to “come and be safe in, to have fun in…in a manner that’s non-judgmental and that’s inclusive as possible,” adding that QM “creates a greater awareness on campus…that McGill is a place where queer students and non-queer students alike can come and learn.” Khare also believes that one of the most siginificant aspects of QM is “the pride we show in our queer community, the parties we throw, [and] the events we fund are important.” Thom argued that parties like Homo Hop, Queer Prom, along with smaller monthly social events are not “trivial,” but rather “send a message that being queer does not have to be a burden, a curse, or radical political stance. Sometimes being queer can just be fun.”

Cook also pointed out that many of QM’s subgroups fulfill vital roles on campus; “The fact they fund groups like Queerline, Allies, Rez Project…they help so many people.”

However, QM also recognizes that it does need to reach out to groups within the queer community who have previously been overlooked. Khare acknowledges that QM could display, “more sensitivity to trans issues, [and] to asexuality.” Villalpando emphasized that reaching out to the asexual community is “one of our goals this semester,” pointing to the fact that, “in society, the asexual community remains marginalized.”

Thom would also like to see his organization reach out more to the francophone community, especially in high schools and CEGEP. Additionally, he explained that QM plans to hold weekly discussion groups in a closed, confidential space, in order to “reach out to students who may not be fully out, or questioning themselves, because these students are often the most marginalized and under-represented.”

Though Cook would like to see Queer McGill “reach out to minority communities,” she stressed that, “you also don’t want to tokenize anyone, so it’s tough.”

However, there are still great strides to be taken on McGill’s part to make the University more inclusive to queer students. A student who formerly served on the McGill Equity Subcommittee on Queer People explained that, “The most homophobia [and] transphobia students will experience is in the classroom. Sometimes the material you’re being taught isn’t sensitive to reality…I think a lot of professors don’t think they need to be sensitive to [students’ lived experiences].”

Villalpando agrees: “It’s definitely something I’ve experienced myself, that the vast majority of queer students have experienced.” Thom added that because institutions like McGill have a rigid, top-down structure, “many professors don’t want to hear from their students about these issues.”

Though the executives are sincere in their mission, students’ perception of the group remains divided. As Cook put it, “students that aren’t involved in Queer McGill see Queer McGill as extremly political; people who have been involved in the organization tell you it’s not political at all. I would like to think that Queer McGill can be both political and a community-building organization.”