Sept. 27 marked the beginning of McGill’s second annual Queer History Month and the 17th annual queer homecoming ‘Return of the Rainbow.’ Meryem Benslimane, equity education advisor to the provost and Vice Principal, as well as chair of the Planning Committee of Queer History Month, spoke on the importance of recognizing the difficulties that 2SLGBTQIA+ people may face within their own families and communities.
“This [month] will be to celebrate [Queer] histories, so the focus is really on learning, on the educational purpose, [and] on raising awareness,” Benslimane said.
The opening ceremony included presentations from those in the McGill 2SLGBTQIA+ community, who shared their personal experiences as well as queer history from McGill, Montreal, and beyond. Afterward, hors d’oeuvres and drinks were served and McGill students, staff and alumni had the opportunity to socialize.
Organized by student and staff organizations at McGill, Queer History Month is intended to reach out to McGill and Montreal communities with 17 events celebrating various aspects of 2SLGBTQIA+ lives. Coming up this week is a lecture by Sara Ahmed, “Complaint as a Queer Method” on Oct. 4 that sold out within minutes: Staff relocated the event to a larger room in the McIntyre Medical Building to accommodate the large demand. The event concludes with a closing ceremony on Halloween featuring various speakers, artists, and an open mic opportunity.
Shawn McCutcheon, a PhD candidate studying queer history, described his experience as a student in his speech during the opening ceremony.
“Reading, seeing, [and] hearing testimonies from individuals of the past is akin to an emotional rollercoaster,” McCutcheon said. “Past voices can be almost unbearable, echoing hatreds and despair […] One also encounters beautiful examples of solidarity and love.”
McGill has a rich history of queer activism, which includes students and staff who have fought for rights, safety, acknowledgement, and the establishment of the Subcomittee on Queer People in 2002 that now plans McGill’s Queer History Month. Juanita Marchand Knight, a Research Assistant and Performer at the Schulich School of Music, described her vision for the month at the ceremony.
“We can see that the Queer community has accomplished splendid things and those things are celebrated at Mcgill,” Marchand Knight said. “We can see that people remember the times when our rights were limited and acknowledge how wrong it is, and that, moving forward, we are going to keep fighting for those who are still marginalized, together […] It means that, hopefully, others will not waste 20 years wearing a skin that isn’t theirs and is so heavy that they cannot reach those goals and dreams.”
McGill’s first Queer History Month last year was the first of its kind at any Canadian university. The month has grown in scope since its inauguration, and the title has been changed from 2SLGBTQIA+ to Queer History Month to draw on the community’s reclamation and empowerment of a word once used as an insult and slur.
“Now the acronym that we’re using is 2SLGBTQIA+,” Benslimane said. “To acknowledge that Indigenous people were here on this land first before us and to show solidarity.”
Though McGill is currently Canada’s only university with a Queer History Month, Benslimane expressed her hope for Queer History Month to continue to grow in popularity.
“It would be really [nice] to see [a Queer History Month] in every institution, and not just universities, but in high school, because you see the impact on folks,” Benslimane said. “That would be my dream, to see it happening everywhere and keep happening forever.”