The decision currently before the UMSU board of directors to change the position title of the community representative for the campus’ LGBTTQ* community from “LGBTTQ* representative” to “gender, sexual and relationship diversities (GSRD) representative” is problematic in nature and troubling in origin.
At every stage of the process leading to this motion being put to a vote, the best interests of the LGBTTQ* community on campus have not been served; there has been no real effort to ascertain the will — if a collective will can be divined — of the community on campus.
A cursory survey of a small group of students — members of Rainbow Pride Mosaic (RPM)— has been substituted for meaningful consultation. Just 15 students, mainly RPM regulars, signed the petition posted on the LGBTTQ* representative’s door supporting the title change. The motion refers to this as “sufficient signatures from the community,” which is simply not correct.
RPM is a gay-straight alliance. The LGBTTQ* community includes individuals who are not comfortable in so-called safe spaces that include straight allies as members of organizations aimed at expressing the goals and meeting the needs of the community.
The community also includes those who believe straight allies have a detrimental effect on achieving true liberation from heteronormative society.
If RPM includes straight allies, that’s fine and good, but the title of the person representing LGBTTQ* people at the U of M should leave no room for doubt — it does not include straight people.
Without notice being given to even the broader campus community, how could a representative portion of the LGBTTQ* campus community express their opinion on the proposed name change? Perhaps more pointedly — if the 15 people who signed the petition are those who frequent the RPM space and if such RPM members can include straight allies — did non-LGBTTQ* people sign their names to this petition?
That seems undesirable, but it grows to something more insidious when one considers that there is nothing in the proposed title of the GSRD representative explicitly excluding straight, cisgender men — provided they are in some sort of relationship that is more or less diverse.
LGBTTQ* people belong to a group that has been — and in many parts of the world continues to be — persecuted. The community consists of a discrete group of individuals with specific concerns and needs. This is why there is a position to represent their interests and these interests go beyond a desire for fuzzy feelings of inclusivity.
There exists a robust and healthy debate regarding the proper terminology to use in the decades since the telescoping of the original “LGBT.” Although the expansion of the term has occurred within the context of accepting and recognizing the diversity of the queer community, there is an undeniable (and undesirable) side-effect of atomizing the very groups meant to be represented as a whole by the term.
For this reason, it has been proposed by some that “queer” be reclaimed as a replacement for LGBTTQ*, since it properly refers to the non-straight without excluding particular groups.
GSRD as a term is more commonly used in Britain, within the context of counselling rather than in reference to LGBTTQ* groups. However, some — such as Pride Winnipeg — have adopted the term. It is worth remembering that, like gay-straight alliances, some members of the LGBTTQ* community take a dim view of pride festivals precisely because they have become so focused on inclusivity of allies, rather than the political, social and spiritual emancipation and pride of queer people.
If the title was changed in order to be more inclusive, does this mean the students being represented have changed?
Are students who do not identify as lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit or queer seeking some form of representation deriving from the name change? If they are, that is not appropriate. If they are not, then why would the name require changing?
In all of this, one questions the role of the services co-ordinator. Last year, UMSU amalgamated what were previously part-time positions associated with each community group into one position representing all groups.
How have the interests of the LGBTTQ* community been served by this? What role did the co-ordinator play in this proposed change?
There are no clear answers to any of these questions because UMSU and those responsible for this motion have operated outside the eye of the campus community and without meaningful consultation from the LGBTTQ* community.
The most charitable way to describe what has happened would be a mindless, even if well-intentioned, mission creep, wherein a vague desire to be inclusive replaces the awareness that LGBTTQ* people have been historically marginalized, oppressed and destroyed. And that the peace and security (still far less than many straight people imagine) this community knows in Canada was hard-won by people unafraid to define themselves and their interests in clear terms.
You have perhaps heard of Matthew Shepard — beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die in a field because he was gay.
Whatever words his assailants uttered as they committed a crime motivated by hate, it is a safe bet that “relationship diversity” was not among them.