Pride for whom, exactly? Rainbow sidewalks mean very little without material support from institutions

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Photo by Grant Holt

By Lilian Obeng

Over the course summer, city council voted in favour of paying public tribute to Hamilton’s LGBTQ+ community. The intersections in front of city hall and McMaster University, Summers Lane at Main Street West and Sterling Street respectively, now don brightly coloured trans and pride flags.

The decision was met with praise across the board. McMaster University specifically seized on the opportunity to integrate the new crosswalks into their overall public-relations strategy — tweets, Facebook posts and even an Instagram post. A bright, simple and public display of support for a marginalized community, such as this, is unlikely to encounter many challenges. But as a queer student who has been on this campus for upwards of three years, these crosswalks are only a bleak reminder of the actual priorities of the university’s administration.

Symbolic gestures, such as these crosswalks, can be important political statements. Given the current political climate, I would be remiss if I did not highlight the need to remain firm and resolute in our solidarity with the marginalized. However, what purpose do rainbow crosswalks serve when the university fails to ensure the safety of its LGBTQ+ community?

 

This was best illustrated by Jordan Peterson’s visit to our campus, and the university’s dismal response to staff, student and faculty outcry. In March 2017, a McMaster Students Union ratified club invited Peterson to campus to speak on ‘political correctness.’ Needless to say, the visit was marred with controversy from its planning stages all the way through to Peterson’s arrival.

Peterson rose to prominence for refusing to use his trans students correct pronouns at the University of Toronto, citing the mere act of respecting students as compelled speech and infringing on his own rights. He has since gone on to accrue a host of misogynistic and racist views. Peterson’s bigoted diatribes have earned him legions of right-wing and white supremacist support as well as personal wealth.

Needless to say, all of this information was presented multiple times to multiple levels of the university. The President’s Advisory Council on Building and Inclusive Community brought students, staff and faculty together to lucidly explain the potential threat Peterson’s visit could pose to already vulnerable people. Our concern was met with silence, and in these times, silence is complicity.

Peterson supporters — supporters that had absolutely no affiliation with McMaster or the broader Hamilton community, physically assaulted student protesters. Members of PACBIC faced weeks of harassment both in-person and online from Peterson’s fans. The university has made little to no attempt to ameliorate this situation. The only action that has been taken were the creation of guidelines for event planners — guidelines that demonstrate that the university’s understanding of the free speech debate is informed entirely by right-wing propaganda and not the social realities that are present on our campus.

The fact remains that if our struggles cannot be moulded or integrated into the existing public relations strategy of the university, our legitimate concerns fall by the wayside. Our pointed policy solutions, our calm consultations, and even our protests are either tokenized, such as with these crosswalks, or minimized and placed aside. The LGBTQ+ community deserves more than this spectacle.

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