Mental health supports for queer-identifying students at Queen’s

‘We need to provide them with a space where they can feel comfortable and safe.’

Image by: Herbert Wang
Several initiatives at Queen's promoting the mental health of queer-identifying students.

For Jirjees Al-shammaa, one of the biggest mental health concerns for queer students is social isolation.

As the Gender and Sexual Diversity Assistant Manager at the Peer Support Centre (PSC), Al-shammaa mentioned the rejection and lack of validation many queer students experience as contributing to this concern.

As the rise of anti-LGBTQ activity in the United States has spread over into Canada, the mental health of queer-identifying students has emerged as a concern with the increasingly hostile environment in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, police-reported hate crimes linked to sexual orientation increased by 64 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

The Journal spoke with Al-shammaa along with three others on the various initiatives at Queen’s supporting the mental health of queer-identifying students.


Established as a new division of the PSC last year, Queers 4 Peers (Q4P) is student-led service that aims to provide support to queer-identifying students.

Al-shammaa is responsible for overseeing Q4P. The service aims to provide a non-judgemental, confidential space for queer-identifying students to receive one-on-one counselling. Q4P facilitates social events.

“The entirety of our staff is queer so there is a certain level of understanding, empathy and mutual ground to connect,” Al shammaa said. “There aren’t any fears or apprehensions that you’re meeting someone who’s new to the community or is not aware of your experiences or might not be able to relate.”

“We still face issues such as people struggle to get their dead names removed from their official records or queer students struggling to just deal with partners during presentations because their partners just don’t know how to interact with them,” Al-shammaa said.

By providing queer-identifying students with a safe space, Al-shammaa believes Q4P supports their mental health.“We found that in order to support queer students’ mental health, we need to provide them with a space where they can feel comfortable and safe and start unmasking themselves and feeling like their normal, authentic selves without feeling that people are just accommodating them.”

Al-shammaa emphasized Q4P’s community-building model. This approach has taken various forms like weekly hangouts, events giving queer-identifying students ways to connect in-person.

With respect to Q4P’s future priorities, Al-shammaa mentioned prioritizing better support for students who identify as both BIPOC and queer.

“Kingston is predominantly white. That doesn’t mean there aren’t BIPOC queers, but they are a smaller minority within an already existing minority,” they said. “The fact [queer BIPOC students] have to choose between their BIPOC identity when they’re going into a space and just leave [their queer identity] behind because they know people in these spaces won’t understand.”


Much like Q4P, the Yellow House offers advising to support the wellbeing of queer-identifying students in addition to a variety of events and program.

Kel Martin, the sexual and gender diversity advisor at Yellow House, provided many examples of how Yellow House supports the mental health of queer-identifying students.

“Our programming involves working with professionals such as art therapists, counselors and other health professionals to offer events specifically focused on wellbeing,” Martin wrote in a statement to The Journal.

Several of Yellow House’s initiatives focus on wellbeing. The Gender Splendor initiative serves as a support group for students that are trans, non-binary, gender diverse, and questioning students. Another initiative called Queer Your Mind allows students to access mindfulness and meditation spaces at Yellow House.

Yellow House offers additional support to students in times of need like during Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“We also work closely with Athletics and Recreation to deliver programming focused on movement, as we know being active has a positive impact, on not just physical health but mental health as well,” Martin wrote.

Martin believes this helps queer-identifying students not only meet peers, but also develop lasting friendships. At the same time, Martin recognizes areas for improvement for the Yellow House’s support for queer-identifying students’ mental health.

“I think Yellow House’s next steps to improve supports for 2SLGBTQ+ students involve assessing our programming, evaluating the feedback we have gathered and using it to inform changes to our existing programming,”
Martin wrote.

As for what is next, they mentioned Yellow House will continue the existing wellbeing programs while updating programming for the upcoming 2023-24 academic year. “All of this programing is built with 2SLGBTQ+ students for 2SLGBTQ+ students, and thus we invite any ideas and feedback as we work through this planning stage,” Martin wrote.

Martin believes there are a few ways the University can better support the mental health of queer-identifying students.

“Continuing to increase 2SLGBTQ+ representation across the institution will bring meaningful change, specifically for frontline healthcare staff that students engage with,” they wrote. “Keeping healthcare staff current through training on 2SLGBTQ+ affirming care and addressing systemic barriers 2SLGBTQ+ students face will help improve mental health and wellbeing for 2SLGBTQ+ students.”


Housed under the Human Rights and Equity Office (HREO), the Positive Space Program, is one of the oldest supports for queer students on campus. Established in 1999, the initiative aims to share information about sexual and gender diversity as well as create safer and more affirming spaces on campuses for queer-identifying students and staff.

According to Emma McCallum, the Education and Learning Coordinator at the Centre for Teaching and Learning and the HREO, the Positive Space Program achieves these objectives by offering training in a two-part program.

“The first part is an online asynchronous module and then the second part is a live training where you come and join us. After you’ve done both parts, you then receive a sticker of completion,” McCallum told The Journal.

The sticker serves as a display to demonstrate that one has completed the training, but also as a way of increasing awareness of the training. “Sharing that kind of symbol and the message behind the programming [through the sticker] is [meant] to create safe and more affirming and welcoming campus environment for students, staff and faculty from the 2SLGBTQI+ community,” McCallum said.

McCallum highlighted the program is peer-led, meaning students deliver the program to participants. While a team of “peer leads” and facilitators deliver the training program to various student groups throughout the year, the Positive Space Program becomes particularly active during orientation.

As for the program’s next steps, McCallum emphasized the need for hiring new peer leads and updating the program to reflect the latest I-EDIAA standards.

“I would say one of the things that’s tricky about doing I-EDIAA work is staying up-to-date with community and feedback and language as they shift and change,” she said. “We’re always trying to prioritize the time to make the updates to the trainings and really do what we need to do in order to make sure that we’re staying in line with best practices.”


Unlike Q4P and the Positive Space Program—both of which are primarily student-led initiatives—the Provost’s Action Group for Gender and Sexual Diversity (PAGGAS) is a small team made of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students.

PAGGAS’ main objectives are to lay the groundwork for policy improvements in the University climate for faculty, staff, and students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+.

Dr. Lee Airton, an assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies and a member of PAGGAS, elaborated on PAGGAS’ work.

“PAGGAS is a hub for gender and sexual diversity and action that is happening on campus. So we initiate changes when situations are brought to our attention and we bring the relevant players and people and rules together into the room,” Airton told The Journal.

“When PAGGAS hears about student concerns about access to different kinds of resources on campus, PAGGAS can share those [concerns] directly with folks and senior leaders who are responsible for service provision.”

PAGGAS drafts reports that assess the university’s progress in terms of improving the climate for queer-identifying students. In discussing how PAGGAS is committed to the mental health of queer-identifying students, Airton mentioned the group addresses the conditions which can support or hinder the mental health of queer-identifying students.

One specific example is gender-neutral washrooms—an issue widely understood as being linked to the mental health of trans and nonbinary youths.

“Research has shown trans students’ mental health, in particular, is affected by the availability of gender-neutral washrooms or gender accessible washrooms and change rooms and post-secondary spaces,” Airton said.


Mental health, PAGGAS, Positive Space Program, Queer, Yellow House

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