Fredericton’s universities are not providing the same level of services for LGBTQIA+ students, according to Qmunity, a newly formed queer advocacy group at the University of New Brunswick (UNB).
Sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender expression used to be seen as pathological. Lately, there has been a shift to understanding gender and sexuality as diverse spectrums. Many institutions still have progress to be made regarding service provision, because individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, intersex, asexual, and other diverse forms of gender and sexual orientation) are more likely to face violence and mental health challenges, according to the report, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health,” published by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
STU and their LGBTQIA+ situation
According to Erin Fredericks, the LGBTQIA+ resource advisor at St. Thomas University (STU), 15-17% of students that attend the institution identify as queer, with another estimated 5% of students identifying as transgender. This is more than the number of student athletes at STU, so it is understandable that the university is making services available to support these students during their time on campus.
Fredericks plays a central role in this support system. She holds office hours to speak to students, refers students to various services on campus and in the community, and helps to advocate for further rights. Fredericks provides safe spaces training for STU faculty and staff, as well as residence advisors, residence coordinators, house committees, and welcome week leaders.
STU students started the Queer and Allied People’s Society group. This year, they held the very first STU Pride Week with a variety of activities that included a heritage fair and a poetry slam.
STU has a variety of other supports for LGBTQIA+ students and faculty. The Harassment and Discrimination Policy includes gender expression, identity, and sexual orientation, which makes it more comprehensive than the general New Brunswick Human Rights Act. Fredericks plays a role in supporting any student with formal complaints.
There are still areas that could do with improvement at STU, however. Firstly, there is a lot of work still needed within athletics, and this is one of the next areas that Fredericks says should be looked at. Residences, and specifically residence bathrooms, need to accommodating to all students –i.e., gender neutral and accessible washrooms. Students should be able to change their names and pronouns through the STU online system themselves, without having to go through Fredericks and the Registrar’s Office to do so. And, finally, Fredericks says that there is still work to be done in Fredericton creating a better community for LGBTQIA+ individuals, outside of bars and clubs.
UNB and their LGBTQIA+ Situation
Sharing the same campus, UNB stands as a sharp contrast to the resources and services provided at STU. No statistics exist on this population on UNB Campus. Another one of the areas that UNB is lacking in is a compensated LGBQTIA+ faculty advisor. With a position like the one that Fredericks holds at STU, resources and supports can be assessed and supplied. Without a position that acknowledges the special needs of LGBQTIA+ students and faculty, these needed supports can go unnoticed. The University Administration who make the financial decisions, need to make this a priority.
Qmunity is a new group on the UNB campus that is filling in some of the gaps that the university community fails to. Prior to Qmunity, a visible group/club for folks needing support did not exist, though students had a meeting place with another association, Spectrum. Qmunity has gone further and has created a safer social space for LGBQTIA+ students to reach out and meet as a community, as well as making LGBTQIA+ students visible in the community through participating in events like Fredericton Pride last August. They are hoping to secure a physical space in order to better connect with the community, especially since the UNB Sexuality Centre was closed.
LGBQTIA+ students tend to be invisible in social spaces and can subsequently find it difficult to network. Many are coerced to reduce their visibility for fear of the possibility of harassment and violence. That is why resources and supports for gender and sexual minorities are essential.
Despite the many challenges, Qmunity executive member Hayden Richardson says, “there’s a strong queer community” on UNB campus. Since there are fewer resources at UNB than there are at STU –but more students– students have worked together in solidarity for common goals. Qmunity co-hosted a successful Safe Spaces training session with the UNB/STU University Women’s Centre on October 24th.
It is clear that UNB lags behind in supports and services. However, there is an excellent opportunity to spearhead this issue with the new vibrant Qmunity and model changes on the work done at STU.
Maggie Fischer and Sarah Enright are STU Social Work students at the UNB/STU University Women’s Centre.