The 2020 Lead with Pride student leadership conference took place on January 31 and February 1, with talks emphasizing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, rights for the transgender community, and climate justice.
This year’s theme, “This Decade’s Difference,” focused on creating change in the new decade, as well as acknowledging the change brought by activists in the past. This is the conference’s 11th year running, with roughly 80 people registered.
It was organized by the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office (SGDO), an office meant to address equity and discrimination and to provide workshops, education, support, and resources on sexual and gender diversity for U of T students, staff, and faculty. The co-chairs wrote in their program that “perhaps the beginning of a new decade can serve as an encouragement for us to look brightly into the future while still holding onto the lessons of the past.”
Cheryl Quan, an organizer of the event, said other leadership conferences on campus, such as the ULead Conference and the Leading Together conference, often do not include LGBTQ+ people or target programs and workshops aimed toward them. Lead With Pride aims to do both, and also to provide people with a network of people in the LGBTQ+ community.
The two-day conference included one day of introductions and a presentation from keynote speaker Seán Kinsella, the Director, the Eighth Fire, at Centennial College, a position created to help the college work toward truth and reconciliation goals. There was also a day of workshops and discussion.
Kinsella’s presentation discussed their experiences as an Indigenous and queer person. The speech also detailed the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and how this can be done.
Introductions included a land acknowledgement from each member of the Organizing Committee, in which members shared their personal relationship to colonization and reconciliation. The committee wrote in the conference program that “it is our collective priority to ensure all conference attendees gain a deeper understanding of our shared histories and contemporary relationships with the land we live, work, and study on.”
Conference leaders emphasized the need for support and optimism in the face of political events in the city throughout 2019, such as the Toronto Climate Strike and the Toronto Public Library’s decision to allow writer Meghan Murphy to speak at one of their branches. Murphy, a writer who runs a blog called Feminist Current, has written that “allowing men to identify as women” is dangerous for women and women’s rights. Murphy was met with hundreds of protestors at the October event held at Toronto Public Library, with the protestors calling Murphy out for transphobia because of her denial of transgender rights.
Leaders also wrote that “climate change is an LGBTQ issue,” as Indigenous and marginalized communities often disproportionately suffer the effects of the climate crisis.