Last Wednesday, the McGill Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) organized a Safer Spaces workshop on gender identity and sexual orientation. The interactive event offered an introduction for participants graduate students, faculty, and staff members to address issues of marginalization in sexual diversity.The facilitators, Sarah Malik and Tynan Jarrett, both of whom work as Equity Educational Advisors at the SEDE Office, aimed to create a safe space to openly discuss challenging issues.
“Some of the most important things [for people to get out of the workshop] are to be able to distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity, to understand some of the experiences of gender variant folks and the diversity of sexual orientations […] and how those things become relevant to life at McGill,” Malik said.
The workshop began with a lesson in sex and gender terminology. The discussion investigated the nuances of terms that are often variously interpreted and identified with, such as “queer” and “passing.” It was followed by an introduction to the frameworks and basics of sex and gender, which explored their definitions and addressed common misconceptions surrounding gender roles, gender identity, and the link between sex and gender.
“We’ve done a lot of work to make the concepts and the terminology […] relevant and accessible to people from across the university,” Malik said, noting that the workshop has consistently been attended by students and staff from a wide range of departments and faculties.
Attendee Jessica Galinas, a student affairs coordinator at McGill, noted the importance of discussing basic frameworks of gender and sex in communities where members may have different levels of comfort and understanding.
“If you work in a faculty where there’s a big discrepancy in age of the staff, these things may not be discussed or brought up at all,” Galinas said.
Participants then worked in small groups to tackle hypothetical scenarios concerning gender and sex, discussing what action they might take if, for instance, they encountered someone whose gender presentation they were unsure of entering the women’s public washroom.
Attendee Cora Lee Conway, a residence life manager at McGill, explained the importance of being well-versed in issues of gender identity and sexual orientation to her role in residence and in the McGill community in general.
“I think it’s always really great to refresh, reflect, and check yourself on the things you don’t know and need to know,” Conway said. “One of the biggest challenges here, I think, is a very human inclination to try and understand everything [….] I think its really important to remember that you’re not going to understand everything, and you don’t have to […] but you have to allow people to identify and express themselves in the ways they feel most comfortable and the most safe doing.”
The facilitators also aimed to educate participants about the marginalization of LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people and encouraged them to seek out knowledge on how to respond to it.
“[It is important] to be equipped with knowledge and strategies to be able to intervene and name transphobia, homophobia, and different forms of marginalization that occur, and be able to respond to them effectively,” Malik said. “All those sorts of things that can help us understand experiences that are different from our own and understand how marginalization occurs, what it looks like, and how it happens in order to be able to recognize it and work against it.”