Queer Orientation is an annual series of events for LGBTQ+ and queer students at the University of Toronto. Every year, over 30 groups from all campuses come together to plan and execute more than 40 activities. Many of this year’s events focused on the intersecting identities that shape a person’s experience of being LGBTQ+.
“From our very first meeting we engaged in discussions about the barriers that students, staff, and faculty might face when trying to participate in these spaces,” said Kathy Mac, Queer Orientation coordinator with the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office (SGDO), of the factors taken into consideration when planning Queer Orientation. Mac named barriers such as language, finances, physical accessibility, social anxiety, visibility, class conflicts, legal drinking age, and a variety of other accessibility needs among those to be addressed. “We wanted to plan these events, not just with these needs in consideration, but around these needs from the start.”
Katie Pereira, a second-year student and member of VicPride! said that Queer Orientation is especially important to the U of T community because the school’s size makes it easy for students to feel lost.
“Having a week of events dedicated to queer identities helps us feel more at home here. It tells incoming students, many of whom are coming from high schools — which are notorious for not being the most accepting — that U of T can be a safe, inclusive space,” Pereira noted. “It gives us a place to meet queer people and form connections all of which are very important for making community.”
Brian Langevin, co-president of Woodsworth Inclusive, agreed. “In essence, Quer Orientation helps to queer the university and this needs to be an ongoing effort.”
The goals of this year’s Queer Orientation centred around building community, increasing awareness of U of T’s resources, to bring awareness to areas where there is a lack of resources, to educate and to have fun.
“We decided at the very beginning of our planning to commit to having many different kinds of events to engage different kinds of participants,” Mac said, adding : “I think we’ve been very successful in reaching out to different people.”
As a participant in many of the events and an organizer for Vic’s Yoga in the Quad event, Pereira believes that it is very important for the U of T community to continue its focus on intersecting identities.
“ … It’s extremely important to acknowledge that queerness can be made even more complex when we factor in other aspects of people’s identities. Most queer people aren’t just gay or bisexual or trans — many of us have intersecting identities that add extra challenges or extra differences to be celebrated.”
Langevin notes that for the first time, Queer Orientation hosted an event centred around individuals on the asexual spectrum, which “allows [them] to build connections and communities in a way that was not previously and would not otherwise be possible.”
Matthew Celestial, a fourth-year book and media studies student, attended several Queer Orientation events. He emphasized the importance of Queer Orientation, especially for first-years and people who are not out or who are exploring their identities. “[Queer Orientation] has always catered to making me feel like my identity mattered on campus. Especially, during my first year when I wasn’t out, I really, really appreciated seeing that there was Queer Orientation that year. It made me feel safe knowing that I was represented on campus, that people supported me, that there were many resources on campus, and that people were aware of the ongoing issues and would listen to me.”
Celestial praised events such as Out at Work, Decolonizing Queerness and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour Parents Group as among the most important fixtures of the week. Celestial said that these topics in particular spoke to his experiences.
“[Being] queer and out at work is and unfortunately will always be an issue that will affect me socio-economically through my identity as a working student-professional,” he said. As a person of colour, Celestial said, having these programmes at the beginning of the year engages people to think more.
While Queer Orientation only happens once a year, the SGDO puts on many events throughout the school year. Information on these events can be found on their Facebook page U of T Sexual and Gender Diversity Office.
Correction (October 6, 2015, 11:27pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kathy Mac is a Human Resources and Equity Officer for the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, when in fact she is the Queer Orientation coordinator. The Varsity regrets the error.