This past summer I proudly walked alongside colleagues and friends from the University of Manitoba and thousands of other committed individuals in support of Pride Parade festivities in Winnipeg and later in Steinbach. I gazed upon and shared stories with a rainbow of people who gathered to stand for one another, for diversity, for individuality, for equality, and for love.
We laughed and cried, played and protested.
And, most of all, we felt a tremendous exhilaration in the power of community. Community can be many things. What I realize—particularly from those two remarkable days—is that the strongest communities have the courage to make way for change. Communities give voice. They shift. They reinvent. And, at their most dynamic, they are open to disruption.
That is the kind of community to which I want to belong.
It’s not always easy. In my own life, I first tested the limits of my community when I declared myself a gay man. At the time, I wasn’t able to see a successful path ahead of me. I believed the obstacles would be insurmountable. I believed that my community was not ready for the disruption my presence would bring and therefore would not allow me to progress on my own terms.
But a community can surprise you. And though I encountered my fair share of narrow-mindedness, I found that I was able to express my full self and at the same time flourish in my personal life and professional aspirations. Today I work as one of two openly LGBTTQI* members of the executive team at this university where there is space for us to make our own unique contributions.
And that is the mark of the healthiest of communities: they survive, indeed thrive, after a good shake.
As Canada’s first openly transgender judge, Kael McKenzie [BA/03, LLB/06], the individual on the cover of our third edition of UM Today The Magazine, would have shaken up a lot of institutions, offices and people. But in the end his achievement, his struggle, has challenged our community to open up to new ways of seeing and being, to bettering itself because it can contain and embrace that which once frightened it.
Disruption does that. We need not fear it.
The tremendously uplifting feelings from this summer’s Pride Parades I will carry with me all my life. The people striding next to me made me feel part of something bigger and greater than I could ever have touched on my own. I suspect many felt similarly moved at the first ever UM Queer Homecoming event that took place here on campus on Sept. 23. We will marvel at the capacity of this community, our community here at the University of Manitoba, to accept change, and, yes, to invite disruption.