By Stefanie Phillips
This story has been updated from a previous version.
While the pink, blue and white colours of the Transgender Pride Flag were raised above the Kerr Hall Quad on Wednesday, not all trans folks at Ryerson feel included in the events.
A group of about 70 people—made up of mostly staff and faculty at Ryerson—gathered in the Quad Wednesday afternoon for the raising of the flag. The event marked the beginning of Trans Awareness Month, an ongoing series of events that will take place throughout November. The events were organized by Positive Space at Ryerson, a staff and faculty community network which aims to create an inclusive environment for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
This is the first time Positive Space has planned a month of events for Trans Awareness Month.
Laurie Stewart, Co-Chair of Positive Space who identifies as cis-gender said, “We want this month’s events to challenge us to ask what we can do to support our trans colleagues and students in feeling safer and welcome on campus.”
Stewart said less than one per cent of Ryerson employees identify as trans, adding that it was difficult to find people who wanted to speak and represent the trans community.
Art Blake, an associate professor at Ryerson who identifies as a trans, queer guy said he was grateful Positive Space was leading Trans Awareness Month because “it’s hard enough existing as a queer trans person in academia without the added burden of trying to change the institution.”
At the ceremony, Blake said, “It’s a great day to be trans here at Ryerson.” He said, “The diversity of the trans community should be and could be better represented at Ryerson. I stand here today hoping that at each annual trans flag raising ceremony … there will be more trans faculty and staff members up here with me.”
Blake said the university needs effective recruitment, trans visibility and leadership roles. He said better training is required to build empathy and to eradicate the exclusions, bullying and harassment in order to make inclusion a reality at Ryerson.
Camryn Harlick, Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) vice-president equity, said Positive Space did not include the Trans Collective, which is the only trans-led student organization on campus, or any of the RSU’s six equity service centres in the organization of the events.
“They’ve rolled their eyes at myself and other trans folks in meetings when we bring up our points. After we challenged them they stopped asking to work with us.”
Rachel Trozzolo, Co-Chair of Positive Space, said in an email that their planning committee reached out to the Trans Collective to find out what plans they had for the month to avoid scheduling conflicts and offer potential cross-advertising opportunities.
“We did not receive any response until Oct. 26 – three business days before events began – at which point all of our events had been confirmed,” said Trozzolo.
Trozzolo said the Trans Awareness Month planning committee contacted other trans-identified staff and faculty on campus for the planning of the events.
Harlick said raising the flag on colonized land is “problematic” as it may exclude two-spirit people from the conversation.
But, Riley Kucheran, a two-spirit, Ojibway, PhD student in the Ryerson-York communication and culture program, spoke at the ceremony as part of his land acknowledgement.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Harlick said “I have faced nothing but transphobia from Positive Space and you can bet you will NOT see me at any of those events, and I also refuse to support, endorse, or speak positively about these events or anything Positive Space does. It’s been too white, too colonial, and too cis for far too long.”
Harlick said Positive Space has dismissed and ignored their suggestions and the suggestions of some other trans folks at Ryerson.
Stewart said while the Trans Collective provides important support and advocacy for students, Positive Space provides opportunities for community engagement for faculty and staff.
“There are many ways that advocates raise visibility and awareness, and individuals feel supported and represented in different ways. We take joy in what was accomplished yesterday for faculty and staff,” said Stewart in an email.
Correction: Art Blake was previously identified as using they/them pronouns. The professor identifies using he/him pronouns.
– The Eyeopener previously reported there were about 40 people at the event. There were about 70 people in attendance.
-The Eyeopener previously reported this was the first time Ryerson celebrated Trans Awareness Month. This is the first year Positive Space has planned events for Trans Awareness Month.
The Eyeopener regrets these errors.