An open letter to UVic Pride

Letters Opinions

Dear University of Victoria Pride Collective,

Yours was the first Pride Collective I felt drawn to be a part of. Your members, location, funding, and overall presence is much more impressive than I’ve seen with other Gay-Straight Alliances and Pride Collectives. Above all, your team was the biggest draw for both my partner and myself, as we separately sought inclusion and participation in the Collective over the past four years. We recognize you as friends, neighbours, and colleagues within our community, and we respect the work you do, initiatives and activism you undertake, and the many events you organize. It is for this reason that I must address the alienation and isolation I and others have experienced at your hand, which breaks your Constitution and Bylaws, as does the alarmingly problematic behaviours of your Safer Spaces Coordinator.

Over the past year I have felt compelled to contact the University of Victoria on several occasions regarding the problematic behaviours of UVic Pride team members, as well as the unwelcoming atmosphere in the Pride Centre, both of which conflict with your declared intent: “to promote and provide an atmosphere that . . . build[s] community; and [is] fully inclusive and supportive of all members, including people of any race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sex, colour, age, ability, class, sexuality, nationality, appearance, and religious or political affiliation.” We expect our leaders to be held to the same (if not higher) standard as other members of society. Although my partner and I haven’t explicitly been told that we aren’t welcome, we have faced silence, cold shoulders, and averted eyes upon entering the Pride Centre which suggests that it is the case. I assume that your actions as individuals are a result of personal opinions, judgements, and perceptions and not those of the UVic Pride Collective or the university.

Ignorance is not an excuse, in that I am firm, especially when it comes to equal treatment of others. I am grateful that you facilitate training and educational functions on a regular basis and have an abundance of information available in the Pride Centre. While I feel you are well equipped to teach others, the elitism exuded by those governing UVic Pride does not permit everyone to feel comfortable sharing the purportedly accessible space or information. You carefully outline “privilege” and the need for everyone to acknowledge “the power and privilege that come with their social location,” yet use educational status to determine social standing and denote others as unworthy of acknowledgement in your space.

May I remind you of a time not so long ago when you too were ignorant of such topics?  In your Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism Policy you state under the subheading ‘Access’ that you aim to use language to engage in dialogue easily accessible to the general student body. Like yourselves, I have the privilege of education; I have read, and believe I not only understand, but adhere to your policies. If I am correct, then I, as well as others you’ve turned your backs on, am “learned” enough to enter your space (although you claim pre-existing knowledge is unnecessary). Each of us holds and has a right to our personal opinions, perceptions, and judgements of others, but when we step into the role of coordinators it is our job to give them up in times of leadership. No one should be expelled or excluded based on personal prejudice.

I question the ability of UVic Pride coordinators to govern the Collective due to the lack of self-governance, and the deviation from your mandate and community. Not only are members of the UVic Pride team holding themselves to standards far from what is claimed in your Constitution and Policies, but you are enforcing standards which you yourselves do not uphold. Being a team member is a responsibility that should be undertaken only by responsible members of the community who aim to better the Society, not simply to exert power. The goals and well-being of the UVic Pride Collective have been damaged by the behaviours of its coordinators and their treatment of members of our community. As representatives of the Pride Society, the Student Society, and the University of Victoria, and as representatives of the queer community in Victoria and beyond, you should be held to higher standards by yourselves, your colleagues, and by the community you serve.

The behaviour you have exhibited individually and as a whole is unacceptable. The UVic Pride Collective is a community group funded by UVic undergraduate students meant to serve and respect the queer community. It is not a private club of select members who deem themselves “better than” and whose actions apparently have no consequences. Your job as team leaders is to live up to your Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals and when you do not, it is in your best interest and your duty to enact change. I believe that each of the UVic Pride team members adds value to the Collective. I have seen amazing growth in the Pride Collective over the past four years as well as in the individuals who work daily at making UVic Pride as great as it is. I in no way wish to discount your importance as a constituency group of the UVic Students Society or your importance at UVic and in Victoria. I believe Pride Collectives are vital to our community and are of immense importance on university campuses. My hope in writing this letter is to share the perspective of individuals who have not been given a voice in your Collective, those who have been turned away, unwelcomed, and mistreated by the UVic Pride Society.

UVic Pride: you need to address these concerns and take a critical look at your practices both individually and as a collective. Why are members of our community finding the Collective inaccessible, unwelcoming, and problematic, and why are UVic Pride Coordinators not being held accountable for their actions?