Dr. Simonne Horwitz (PhD) and USSU vice-president Jory McKay (right) hold the inclusive Pride flag, prior to being raised outside of the Peter MacKinnon Building in June of 2019. (Photo: Chris Putnam)

USask celebrates virtual Pride Week

This year’s Pride Week format may have changed, but its importance remains the same for the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus community.

By James Shewaga

While the ongoing global pandemic and social distancing guidelines have altered a number of the annual events, USask will be celebrating with a variety of activities leading up to Pride Week from June 15-20, culminating in staff and students taking part in the Saskatoon Virtual Pride Parade on June 20.

“It’s not only a celebration, it is also a time for education and I think it is vital to talk about issues that still confront us,” said USask history professor Dr. Simonne Horwitz (PhD), who is the co-chair of the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Gender and Sexual Diversity, along with fourth-year USask anthropology student Jory McKay.

“Pride started out as a protest and while we can celebrate the successes that we have had, it is important to continue educating and fighting for rights. So pandemic, or no pandemic, online or in person, we have to be able to keep those messages coming.”

USask’s Pride Week supports the 2SLGBTQ+ community and promotes the university’s commitment to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, while also educating the USask campus community about gender and sexual diversity.

“It is so important for the university to educate and to help support the queer community, which is a very large part, and very important part, of our campus community,” said McKay, the former co-ordinator of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Pride Centre and the USSU’s new vice-president of student affairs. “And I would say now that we are in a pandemic, it is even more important for us to continue to support all communities that may be suffering during a rough time like this.”

In celebration of Pride Week, the university is raising the Pride flag and has bathed the Peter MacKinnon Building and the President’s Residence in Pride rainbow colours at night. The sidewalk between the Murray Library and the Arts Building has been repainted in the Pride colours, while USask is again selling Pride T-shirts and tote bags to raise proceeds for the university’s queer housing project in the College Quarter Residence that began last year. Online donations can be made at donate.usask.ca.

Meanwhile, the University Library has partnered with the Western Development Museum and the Pride Festival to organize a digital panel as part of Spark Your Pride, to share and explore queer histories and stories. The digital panel, entitled So You Have a Queer Collection—Now What?, will feature USask history professor Dr. Valerie Korinek (PhD), among others, and highlight the library’s Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity, a unique collection in Canada of more than 8,000 titles. The panel discussion and question-and-answer session will begin at 11:30 am on Tuesday, June 16 via Zoom meeting. Register in advance at saskatoonpride.ca.

Pride Week will wrap up with the Saskatoon Virtual Pride Parade on Saturday, June 20 on Facebook Live at noon, hosted by Saskatoon Pride and featuring a variety of video submissions from community members, including from USask and the USSU.

“We are presenting a video submission of messages from people across campus, allowing queer faculty, staff and students to talk about why Pride is important to them,” said Horwitz.

While there will not be a physical parade to walk in this year, McKay said he is looking forward to what this year’s unique virtual version will offer.

“I am extremely excited about it,” McKay said. “We are in a digital age and things are very different, but I feel we can do something very significant and very inclusive. I think it is a very awesome thing, even though everything is surreal right now in the world and we have this new normal, but there is still so much that we can do within this new normal.”

Horwitz has witnessed some major changes in support of Pride Week and the 2SLGBTQ+ campus community during her 12 years at USask.

“Without a doubt there has been a major change amongst the students and amongst faculty, especially faculty willing to address 2SLGBTQ+ issues,” Horwitz said. “There are initiatives that the university has taken seriously, including queer housing and gender-neutral bathrooms, all of these issues that even 10 years ago were very difficult to even speak about. So, nothing is perfect and we still have a ways to go, but we are definitely seeing advances in attitude and people showing their Pride and wanting to be a part of it.”

McKay is also pleased with the initiatives he has witnessed during his four years on campus.

“The university is doing a great job for LGBTQ+ people on campus,” McKay said. “We now have gender-neutral washrooms, which is something that not long ago would have been completely unheard of, and we have the Positive Space program, which has become vital to so many people. We have also been able to open queer housing on campus, which was only a pipe dream of mine before I started on the Provost’s advisory committee and Simonne really took leadership of that initiative.

“So, we have taken some amazing strides and I don’t think we are at the end yet, but we are taking the major steps that we have to, in order to get there.” 

Show Your Pride

Tuesday, June 16,
11:30 am (Zoom)
So You Have a Queer Collection—Now What? digital panel

Saturday, June 20,
Noon (Facebook Live)
Saskatoon Virtual Pride Parade