The trouble with UVic’s bursary application questions

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When applying for the UVic general bursary this October, I was asked to respond to a question that made me feel uncomfortable. The question was, “Do you self-identify as a lesbian?” No further questions regarding my sexual identity were asked.

My first thoughts when I saw this question were, “Why does it matter if I am a lesbian?  How is it right to ask?” Lesbians face discrimination achieving educational pursuits and financial assistance; however, other unconventionally identifying people may feel these pressures just as much, if not more, than individuals who self-identify as lesbian. Why are special bursary opportunities available to lesbians when other sexual identities are excluded? If a special opportunity is available to one sexual minority, why are other sexual identities not given an equal opportunity? As it turns out, the question pertains to the Michèle Pujol Scholarship, which the donor specifically wishes to award to an individual who identifies as lesbian.

As Carole S. Vance said, “Gender and sexuality have been the very last domains to have their natural, biologized status called into question.” Grouping individuals into categories of sexuality creates a hegemonic environment where people are left feeling excluded and unwelcome. Perhaps questioning an applicant’s sexual identity may seem normal or okay, but when these opportunities are not equally available to all individuals who identify outside of the norm, we create inequalities.

When answering this question, I felt my right to self-identify as bisexual, asexual, omnisexual, queer, pansexual or otherwise was denied.  What about females who self-identify as males who are sexually interested in females? People who identify outside of the current norm may face discrimination from both the heterosexual and homosexual communities, which are able to group together because of their monosexuality. The exclusion of these individuals by the bursary committee leads me to feel as though their sexual identity is not perceived as legitimate.

In Ontario, there is a registered charitable trust that offers an award to all individuals within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited and queer (LGBTTQ) community called the Bill 7 Award, and this award has received outstanding feedback from the community. The Bill 7 committee has begun a dialogue with the community, and by offering this inclusive award, the committee allows people opportunities they would not otherwise have. I believe that UVic can also make a change in the lives of all individuals within the LGBTTQ community; the bursary committee has begun partnering with the Lambda Foundation, which offers the Candis Graham Writing Scholarship. This scholarship aims to foster research pertaining to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI ) peoples. I would like to congratulate UVic in making this huge step towards equality, but in the same breath wonder why the award is not more apparent to applicants. Students have already received this award, yet not many people know about it.

Individuals with unconventional sexual identities have made astounding headway in recent years. These two scholarships are a great step towards education and employment equity.  I believe we can be leaders by providing an even more inclusive opportunity for individuals of all sexual identities. We can promote inclusion rather than exclusion. It is the responsibility of all to make change and promote an inclusive environment.

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