Amid growing hostility, Queen’s must be vigilant to protect queer community from re-isolation

University policies supporting queer community have progressed since the late 20th century, but there’s still room to grow

Image supplied by: Supplied by Erin LeBlanc
Erin reflects on how Queen’s support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community has evolved in her time as a student and teacher.

Being a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community is not a lifestyle choice. It certainly was not a choice for me.

The only decision I made nine years ago was to survive. This meant transitioning to my authentic self.

It was a painful journey with great costs. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see my true self in the reflection. I couldn’t be happier, or more at peace.

Much of this journey took place during my time at Queen’s. Having spent over 35 years on this campus as a student, staff, and adjunct lecturer, I’ve observed and experienced the University’s progress in supporting the needs of its queer community.

When first diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder —now known as Gender Dysphoria—in the mid-1990s, I didn’t feel comfortable coming out.

In fact, I was terrified of the process.

I wasn’t prepared to transition into a society adverse to the queer community. As a Queen’s alumna and now staff member, I didn’t believe the University was fully equipped to support its transgender community.

Kingston’s then-limited resources were mostly underground. Moreover, no legislation existed under the Canadian Human Rights Code or Criminal Code that offered people like me protection.

Feeling isolated and without proper help, I was forced to struggle alone. It took almost 25 years after being diagnosed before I realized my survival depended on deciding to be my authentic self and transition.

Thankfully, the conditions for the 2SLGBTQ+ community at Queen’s have vastly improved. Since my time as an undergraduate student, legislation supporting the queer community has increased in quantity and quality. The University’s own policy reflects an institution that values diversity.

It took a long time for us to get here.

In 2015, my first step after transitioning was to ascertain what protections Queen’s offered to trans students. Upon calling the Human Rights office, I learned about provincial protections like Bill 33 (Toby’s Act), as well as certain policies at Queen’s to protect someone like me.

This was a surprising and welcome revelation.

Federal legislation followed in 2016 with the passage of Bill C16, an amendment made to the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code. This legislation specified all people were protected against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. It clarified that such discrimination could be classified as hate crimes.

Though these changes mark a significant win for the 2SLGBTQ+ rights, the community deserved better conditions far sooner.

Federal and provincial legislation laid necessary groundwork for the University to advance its resources for the queer community. Though some school policy existed when I came out, there weren’t any specific gender-affirming processes established to support transitioning individuals.

It was difficult to make necessary name and gender marker changes when the University lacked a centralized system for all their records. The administration didn’t realize how challenging it was to update personnel, financial, student, library, and athletics information due this oversight.

I decided to use my own experiences to advocate for others and help establish transition guidelines. For my contribution in this work, I was named a co-recipient of the 2017 Tri-Award.

Now, there’s a greater number of services and resources available for students and staff at Queen’s.

One example is the Positive Space Program, created by the Human Rights Office. This program provides educational opportunities regarding inclusivity for individuals and departments at Queen’s.

Positive space stickers are displayed in classes and facilities, and on personal belongings to celebrate gender and sexual diversity.

There’s been grassroots efforts to better support queer staff . While existing less formally for 15 years, the Queen’s University Association for Queer Employees (QUAQE) was finally recognized and named an official Employee Resource Group (ERG) by the University in 2020.

QUAQE has since become an integral resource for 2SLGBTQ+ staff. I feel fortunate for my involvement with a group of talented and dedicated staff.

When I came out during my time on staff with the Smith School of Business, it was a tremendously positive experience thanks to the work of so many before me, as well as the Human Rights Office and other policy drivers. They listened, allowed me to control my transition process, and provided encouragement throughout my entire journey.

I was pleased to know Queen’s hadn’t completely buried its head in the sand—here was commendable willingness to ensure measures were in place to help transgender students and staff.

Unfortunately, things have changed since I transitioned. In a climate of renewed hostility, the 2SLGBTQ+ community is under attack again, with transgender people specifically being targeted.

It appears we have travelled back in time.

While most of the transphobic rhetoric is coming from south of the border, it nonetheless has a toxic effect on those residing in Canada. An attack on trans people in one country is an attack on trans people everywhere.

The number of anti-transgender bills proposed in the United States has risen from 174 in 2022 to 557 so far in 2023. They include bathroom bills, banning use of correct pronouns, and criminalizing the provision of gender-affirming care for minors in Oklahoma.

Organizations north of the 49th parallel appear to be fuelled by the US’s zealousness to revoke queer rights. It isn’t just an existential threat to those in the USA—it’s becoming more prominent within our borders. Vandalisms of pride signs and flags on private property and businesses is on the rise. On the political stage, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier recently announced his legislative platform to eliminate gender affirming care for all minors.

Amidst the brimming prejudice, Queen’s cannot take its foot off the gas. Resources must continue to be made available to staff and students alike. More effort should be made to improve the lives of queer students and staff on campus. Complacency is unacceptable.

Queen’s must specifically address how growing anti-trans sentiment impacts transgender students and staff. With growing angst and discomfort in the community, the University must work to overcome the typical barriers associated with seeking mental health services and provide accessible counselling and medical support.

Additionally, public statements reinforcing the intolerance for transphobic and homophobic behaviour must be forceful, frequent, and must continue beyond pride week.

Potential partnerships and speakers must continue to be vetted to ensure they comply with Queen’s values and policies. Emphasizing funding for ongoing positive space training for faculty, staff, and students is non-negotiable.

During my time at Queen’s as a student, staff and adjunct faculty, great strides were made. Let’s ensure this progress isn’t eroded. Together, we must continue to stand for the under-represented and targeted communities, and continue moving towards a better future.

Erin LeBlanc is a ArtSci’ 82 and Law’ 12 graduate, as well as a former lecturer and Director of Strategic Program Development and Accreditation with the Smith School of Business.


Erin LeBlanc, queer mental health, Smith School of Business

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