‘Safe Spaces’: Making 2SLGBTQIA+ communities intersectional

(Riddhi Jani)

We are who we are. Prejudice and organized oppression are at the frontline of marginalization. Many wish to live unburdened by fear, but that is not a wish one’s heart should have to make. 

It is up to us to create not just safe, but inclusive, environments at York, where laughter and memories prevail without judgement and conversations are warm-hearted, especially when important issues are addressed.

It is the people that make up a space and not the space itself. A space can seem safe for one, but not safe for someone else, and so we must not only create but maintain these environments. The responsibility of society is the unification of the whole. 

Organizations such as TBLGAY prevail in the York community for example, fostering a loving and supportive network that prioritizes social and mental wellness. Clubs and groups facilitated by queer individuals help their members to feel supported within a diverse environment as there is someone for anyone to relate to.

TBLGAY’s administrative chair is a fourth-year professional and creative writing double major as well as speculative novelist. Matteo L. Cerilli works with TBLGAY to create a designated space for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

“The collective team is made up of general members of all different sexualities, genders, races, religions, abilities, income-levels, etc, and are in charge of not just helping run events, but suggesting what we do next,” Cerilli states.

TBLGAY also hosts a Discord server, filled with queer intersectional voices. The organization “collaborates with the other community service groups to host events like Queer and Disabled Space, our African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) educational event, and trans guest speakers in tandem with York Federation of Students (YFS).” 

These spaces inspire students at York to explore and accept the beauty of diversity and their intersections.

Consistent effort can achieve collective harmony: “A strong queer community is a strong anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-colonialist, pro-worker, empathic, humanity-minded community,” expresses Cerilli.

The 2SLGBTQIA+ community is filled with individuals across all borders. These people cherish expression and nuance, hear global outcry, work against wide-spread oppression, and fight for freedom. 

“There’s a world out there where everyone has their needs met, understands each other, and feels important to their community, but it won’t come into focus unless we account for everyone’s point of view,” states Cerilli.

Second-year theatre and consecutive education major Matteo Da Costa attests to the importance of safe queer spaces at York. “The reality is that it is very difficult for queer individuals to feel comfortable or safe amongst all groups and places on campus.”

The impact that safe spaces can have on the queer community are substantial, as De Costa may not have felt free to express and share themselves with the world without them.

“It gives members of our community a place and people they can relate to. It is also significantly beneficial when you are surrounded by other queer people that feel or have the same anxieties and struggles you have.”

The curation of a safe environment is crucial to intersectionality. At times such as these, the relief of reliable safety measures can grant peace of mind. Safety measures at York must guarantee the safety of all students. 

Although first-year film production student Elizabeth Paiz Tapia has had mostly online classes, they have not always been entirely comfortable, stating a time they were walking to the TTC station and felt unsafe. “It was because I was alone, and it was dark in that green area in the middle. So that made me a little nervous even though a friend of mine walked with me halfway until we needed to leave to get home.”

When meeting in queer friendly spaces, knowing that services such as goSAFE exist can be extremely beneficial. GoSafe provides escorts to and from campus for an extra layer of security, so that safe travel will never be an issue.

York also provides the York U Safety mobile app, specifically designed for York students, faculty, and staff. With the tap of a finger, full access to York’s safety resources become available to users. Services such as a direct call to campus security, goSafe, and the campus shuttle are welcome to all York students.

Allies are everywhere and there are new ones coming to campus seasonally. Allyship should be interwoven into the very fabric of our culture. Taylor Mackintosh, a first-year film production student, believes strongly in creating safe spaces for everyone. “I think it’s important to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable being themselves and expressing their sexuality.”

Expression is vital to the process of discovering one’s identity. York’s SexGen Committee looks to foster a positively reinforcing environment which includes all intersections. The committee creates a diverse and inclusive space where all people are represented. Their intent is to engage in inclusive education, campus services, to advocate for gender, as well as sexual diversity.

“We strive for York to be free from prejudice and discrimination towards sexual and gender diversity as these intersect and interact with oppression in all its forms,” states their website. The SexGen York Committee carries with it a bright and noble vision for the future — one where an intersectional community is the norm and personal freedom does not have to be fought for.

York is also home to The Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (REI) which executive director Marian MacGregor says “hosts a variety of resources to assist student, faculty and staff to educate and prevent the many forms of unacceptable behaviour, including personal harassment and harassment based on the grounds listed in the Human Rights Code of Ontario, which includes 2SLGBTQIA+.”

In 2021, The Centre for Sexual Violence Response, Support & Education (The Centre) supported and coordinated the week of PRIDE events along with the SexGen collective. Joanie Cameron Pritchett, director of the The Centre, works with SexGen as well as other human rights initiatives. 

“The Centre works with colleagues from Student Counselling, Health, and Well-Being and supplies a weekly support group and offers several talks throughout the year that addresses specific needs for anyone that identifies as being part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

“The Centre ensures that gender-based violence, including issues that directly affect the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, are always addressed in our and all events, such as during Consent Week and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence,” continues Pritchett.

This past November, Trans Day of Remembrance events took place to honour trans-identifying people who have lost their lives as a result of systemic and social transphobia and violence. 

“It is a reminder that we must all be vigilant; we all have a responsibility to foster a safe and welcoming environment for transgender community members,” says Pritchett.

The Centre has support available for those in need and utilizes education and representation as important tools in creating spaces that allow all people to identify as and express their authentic selves.

To inspire an inclusive and engaging environment at York, the Race, Inclusion and Supportive Environments (RISE) Committee exists to fight and advocate for social justice. York’s website describes the grounds in which this committee was founded in 2016. With the intent of uplifting issues of social justice and bringing them to the light, RISE made their mark. 

In recognizing the intersection of race with other personal identities, their website names some of the intersections at play within a complex identity: “Age, ancestry, citizenship, creed (religion), colour, disability, ethnic origin, family status, gender identity (gender expression), marital status, sex (including pregnancy), place of origin, record of offences, receipt of public assistance, and sexual orientation.” 

RISE aims to create mechanisms of support to remove barriers and increase access for everyone at York, regardless of intersections. 

The complexity of human nature is to exist vibrantly and unapologetically. From moral compasses to traditions, intersections are what connect and bring us closer together. For widespread inclusivity to be achieved, students and staff at York must replace stagnant mindsets with a warm-hearted demeanour and listening ear.

In severely lacking hometowns, where representation is nowhere to be found, students seek refuge and solace in their communities. Shaun Soutar, a third-year film production student, instils that loving support is justice served. “Queer events on campus are a way to celebrate our culture and community, champion queer expression and a way of allowing us the space to feel seen”.

Queerness should be celebrated. To conceal who you are is a crime. Identities are transforming and barriers are breaking apart at the seams as we learn to accept all of what makes us who we are.

As we create these spaces, communities will be brought closer together and peace will prosper within society and the university community. Intersections are important— at the point where margins intersect, quirks and hidden talents grow. All should be safely expressed within an inclusive environment at York.

MacGregor asserts that safe intersectional spaces must be prioritized as an essential part of life here at York.

“York always works to create an environment where all people feel welcome, valued, and safe and to provide the services, programs, and resources that will ensure our entire community is supported and empowered.”

Today, the average mindset is being put to the test. Perceptions may be linear, but to be human is to be multifaceted. There is no lack of space for voices to be heard. It is up to the community to cherish and take the sincerity of these voices to heart. 

Uplifting 2SLGBTQIA+ voices will inevitably spark positivity. The love that radiates will inspire many more intersectional voices to rise up within York’s community. Inclusion, visibility, and acceptance are the beautiful side effects of safe intersectional spaces.

About the Author

By Olivia Borges

Sports Editor



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