A freshly painted rainbow crosswalk on the University of the Fraser Valley’s Abbotsford campus is highlighting new efforts to make the school more inclusive, welcoming and safe for LGBTQ students.
But it is only one aspect of an ongoing struggle, according to members of the school’s Pride Collective.
The new feature, found near the main entrance to the B Building, greeted students as they filed into class this fall.
“It was an opportunity to create a very visible symbol for our students faculty and staff that we’re an inclusive, safe and welcoming community for everyone,” said UFV’s director of student life and development Kyle Baillie.
But the school’s Pride Collective, a student group that organizes to make the school more equitable and inclusive of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) students, initially voted against endorsing the crosswalk when the idea was first suggested during the last winter semester.
“We unanimously decided not to endorse it because the university had done nothing, in our minds, to earn it – to actually make this a safer space for queer folks,” said Charlie Steele.
“It felt like lip service,” added Sean Evans, another Pride Collective member.
Soon after, Baillie contacted the group, to see how the school could make changes that would make the school more inclusive of queer students.
Since then, school paperwork has begun including an option for “another gender” in addition to “male” and “female.”
The school also donated $500 to Fraser Valley Pride, and set up a table at the annual July event, which it shared with the collective.
The collective has also begun establishing a permanent space in the students’ union building, where they can organize and gather.
The school currently has several single-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms, with the Pride Collective requesting a multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom.
And, for some, the most significant change is that the school now recognizes students’ preferred names in class role calls, emails and internal class management system.
“What that does is it helps honour their identity creation and it helps to ensure their safety,” said Baillie, who said this new policy has been in the roll-out phase for nine months, but is in full effect for the first time this semester.
Over two years ago, when Steele – who identifies as gender non-binary, neither male nor female and uses the pronoun ‘they’ – went to the school administration to change the first name used on emails and class lists.
“I was told, ‘Yeah, no problem. Just tell me your name, what you want it to be, I’ll write it down and it’ll go through.'”
It did not, however, ‘go through’ and Steele continued to be identified with a ‘dead name’ – the one found on the birth certificate.
The school has since solved an issue with its internal servers, so that a student’s preferred name now comes up first for role calls, emails and other documents.
Tuesday morning, Steele heard the name “Charlie” called by a professor for the first time.
“It felt great. This is my last semester here, so it was a little like the cherry on top. It felt like finally something happened.”
Steele likened the experience of being referred to by a “dead name” as something impersonal, like a student ID number.
“It’s technically what identifies me but it’s not who I am,” they said.
But for transgender women or men who don’t want their trans status known, Steele said having their chosen name used could mean keeping them safe on campus, when a “dead name” could out them to classmates, faculty and staff against their will.
For example, if someone who identifies as Elizabeth is referred to as “John” during roll call this could expose her as transgender.
With these changes underway at UFV, and continued talks between the Pride Collective and school administration, members of the group expressed optimism about how the school is progressing.
“I think we’re off to a good start. We still have an entire two pages worth of more changes that we want to make or more things that we want to do,” said Steele, referring to a list of priorities compiled by the Pride Collective.
The list includes asking for a commitment from the school to have a presence at Fraser Valley Pride (something Steele is confident will happen); the creation of a queer theory course; anti-oppression and consent training for campus security members; and having a queer representative on the school’s sexual assault policy committee.
“We’re still working on those and it’s probably going to be ongoing forever, hopefully,” said Steele. “I don’t think it will ever finish.”