Corrections appended, March 12, 2012
Almost a month ago, the assault of a queer student at Macdonald campus’ Ceilidh bar shocked students and faculty. On February 2, a group of non-McGill students attacked Kristian Fidrych – a U2 Wildlife Biology student – for dancing with another male student.
The assault is not an isolated incident. According to Patrick Blue, operations manager of Security at Mac campus, multiple incidents of “gaybashing” – in the forms of verbal intimidation, harassment and, in 2010, a death threat – have occurred.
Kerry Blake-Savery, Macdonald Campus Student Society (MCSS) president, spoke to the incident. “I think there’s been a bit of shock, and people are wondering: how do we proceed? I think that’s the biggest question on people’s minds,” she said.
Students and staff are raising concerns regarding the school’s security policies. Blue suggested preventative measures, including heightened security at McGill events.
“We need to have a better sign-in system for the bar,” Blue stated. “I don’t think people should be allowed to sign in more than one guest. I think the bar should have sufficient personnel to make sure they take all their IDs.”
Blue also spoke to the importance of security inside the bar, not just at the entrance. “Every time we had security in the bar, we had no problems. But the day of the [incident], we didn’t have extra security,” he said.
Elyse Lewis, co-administrator of Queer McGill, expressed the same need for security at downtown campus events.
However, Blue pointed out that while members of the McGill community might support heightened security, they might not support the accompanying price tag. “We have a good, solid team, and I’m very proud of them,” he stated. But he added that “it comes down to a question of who pays.”
Blue noted that modifications to security policies could only go so far to combat discriminatory acts. “This isn’t just a security problem,” he said.
MCSS VP Finance Nicolas Chatel-Launay agreed. “It’s more an issue of education,” he said.
MCSS plans to take initiatives to raise acceptance of diversity. So far, their plans involve decking the school in “Safe Space” posters, planning a diversity night linked to MCSS’s annual talent show, and accepting support from downtown campus organization Queer McGill.
Lewis expressed the need for staff training regarding queer issues, a tactic she says has been successful at Queer McGill. “If you’re able to train [the staff], it can often trickle down, because it’s hard to get a whole campus educated,” she said.
Currently, the queer community at Macdonald has limited means for safe expression. Despite what Chatel-Launay called “a pretty big gay/lesbian community on campus,” Mac’s only established support group for queer students, Rainbow Mac, is currently inactive due to a lack of membership.
Timothy Schwinghamer, former Rainbow Mac president, attributed the lack of involvement to the fact that many queer students would not remain on campus in the evening, when most of the events were held.
He said that, unlike Queer McGill, Rainbow Mac does not have access to appropriate facilities for their members. “I think Rainbow Mac needs a safe little lounge office with an open door. We have a room, which we share with other student clubs, but it’s locked all the time.”
MCSS and Queer McGill are hoping to work together to provide support to Rainbow Mac, at least until the organization can improve membership. However, representatives from Queer McGill are apprehensive about overstepping boundaries.
“It’s not our campus, technically, and we don’t want to say, ‘As the downtown campus, this is what we think they should do,’” said Lewis. She also spoke to distinctions in the community atmosphere and campus policies at Mac.
“There is the stereotype of more rural areas being not as queer-friendly, but I don’t know if that’s true,” she said, adding that similar discrimination exists downtown. “Just because people aren’t beaten up doesn’t mean there aren’t anti-queer sentiments here, too.”
Chatel-Launay also noted that many Mac students come from rural areas. He said that, in these communities, public homosexuality is “just not something you would see openly.”
Blue said he works with students and their faculty leaders each year. “I let them know there are students here that come from all walks of life,” he said. “This is a community, and it’s the McGill image. But they’re still young – we have to educate them, we have to work with them.”
In the printed version of this article, it incorrectly spells MCSS President Kerry Blake-Saveny and VP Finance Nicolas Chatel-Launay as Blake-Savery and Chauntel-Launay respectively. The Daily regrets the errors.