McGill’s third annual Queer History Month kicked off with a virtual opening ceremony on Thursday, October 1. While not quite like the Thomson House gatherings of years past, the Zoom event was attended by approximately 40 students, staff, and alumni, and also served as this year’s Return of the Rainbow, a McGill homecoming event for members of the queer community.
The event was hosted by Meryem Benslimane, Equity Education Advisor (Gender Equity and LGBTQ+ Education) and organizer of Queer History Month, and featured speeches from Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies), and Professor Hiba Zafran, chair of the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity’s (JBSCE) Subcommittee on Queer People. As the event began, Benslimane expressed her excitement about the new possibilities the online format of Queer History Month offered, and the ability to reach a wider audience.
The event also marked the debut of the Queer History Month Pride Award. Its first annual recipient is Alan Emtage (BSc’87, MSc’91) who is credited with having created what is generally accepted as being the world’s first search engine, Archie, in 1989. Benslimane underscored the importance of this invention to the LGBTQ+ community, noting that “when you try to learn more about yourself, your identity, a lot of us, we turn […] to our keyboards and we search on the Internet. So the impact that Allan Entage’s work has had on the lives of LGBTQ folks all around the world is just amazing and outstanding.” Entage joined the event with a pre-recorded video speech, discussing his experience with encountering queer communities in Montreal, his work on Archie, and how he hopes to attend Queer History Month next year to celebrate.
The award was followed by a performance from Marie Hamilton, a harpist and vocalist from Vermont who is currently based in Montreal. Hamilton performed three songs, including a rendition of Deenah Vollmer’s “Closer to the Water,” which she dedicated to her friend Hayden Muller, who died of complications from breast cancer in September 2019 after facing persistent transphobic treatment from medical professionals.
The event wrapped up with a discussion from audience members of what Queer History Month and Return of the Rainbow meant to them. Participants reflected on the changing landscape of the queer community in isolation, how technology has changed how queer people interact with one another, and the evolution of Montreal’s queer community over the past few decades. Among all of the messages was one hope: to see each other next year, back in Thomson House.
McGill’s Queer History Month events are on-going throughout the month of October. For more information, visit the Queer History Month Facebook page.