“It’s more than flying the rainbow flag,” said McKay, the co-ordinator of the USSU Pride Centre. “If you support LGBTQ2S+, it needs to be all year; it requires a change in ideals and the way we treat each other.”
While the number of activities, celebrations and learning opportunities was definitely a welcome sight for McKay, he said more can be done for those who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community at the U of S.
“We (the Pride Centre) work to have safe and inclusive spaces,” said McKay, who began volunteering with the centre last year during his first year as an undergrad in the College of Arts and Science. “Not just safe places, but also positive spaces where we listen to what is around us and adjust to what people need.”
Creating this positive space is one of McKay’s main priorities for the year ahead, and it is something he found himself at the U of S, and values a great deal. Growing up in Swift Current, he said he was one of only a “few openly queer people” in high school.
“I never thought I could be a successful queer person,” said McKay. “This centre changed that. I know I can be a successful queer person.”
McKay and about 30 volunteers work to create a diverse, inclusive and supportive community in which “everyone is safe to voice their opinions and viewpoints.”
It’s something the centre has been working towards since opening in 1997 as the USSU Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Centre. After changing its name twice, first in 2002 to the LBGTA Centre and again in 2007 to its current name, McKay sees the centre now being inclusive of everyone’s orientation and gender identity.
“Every day about 30 to 35 people stop by the centre, either to talk, hang out or looking for answers,” he said. “We still need to work on getting first-year students involved, so we are going to have a few events that are specifically for them.”
The annual events that the Pride Centre holds, like Queerapalooza in September and Sex Week in February, get most of the attention, McKay said, but the smaller events, like Queer Nights and Positive Spaces 101, are the ones that create meaningful connections and change.
“Positive Spaces is open to anyone, students, faculty and staff, and is for beginners to learn about gender and sexual diversity,” McKay explained. “It helps people learn how to create positive spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer people.”
Positive space training, completed in 90-minute and 150-minute courses, also gives tools to those who are allies with LGBTQ2S+.
“It gives advice on how to be an ally; how to listen, speak up and empower those around you,” said McKay. “How to use your privilege to lift up people around you, not take their power.”
Queer Nights, he continued, are more informal gatherings held throughout the year intended to be fun, create discussion and build community. Another program is Peer Support, an ongoing service provided by trained volunteers “to help anyone during difficult times or contemplating suicide.”
McKay said he knows first-hand how difficult and lonely it can be not to have a community that understands your perspective.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a gay male I could talk to. It is so important to talk with people who have similar experiences,” he said. “There are so many separate identities underneath identifying as queer, and the Pride Centre tries to reflect that.”
Celebrating Pride on campus
The U of S launched a number of events and initiatives as part of its Pride Month activities. All month Pride colours appeared on campus, most noticeably on the walkway between the Murray Library and the Arts Tower, and at night when a rainbow of light washed over the Peter MacKinnon Building and the President’s Residence. Shop usask also launched a U of S Pride T-shirt with proceeds donated to the USSU Pride Centre.
Here is a list of some of the events, celebrations and learning opportunities that the U of S hosted in June as part of its commitment to Pride.
June 11: A Pride flag-raising ceremony was held outside of the Thorvaldson Building to kick off Pride Month.
June 15 and 18: An interactive introduction to LGBTQ+ terminology and issues was hosted, called Creating Positive Space.
June 16: A two-spirit powwow, the first such public event in Saskatoon, was held in the Bowl to create a safe space for all people, especially two-spirit peoples, to take part in cultural celebrations in gender-affirming spaces.
June 20: A Trans Ally Training workshop was held to define and explore how everyone can be an ally to transgender communities.
June 23: U of S students, faculty and staff, and their families, walked in the Saskatoon Pride Parade.