Raising flags and inclusivity
Pride flag flying for the third year
Under a bright blue sky, the sun was shining brightly on the LGBT2SQ+ community at the University of Manitoba. And even though there weren’t any clouds, rainbows were everywhere to celebrate Pride Week and the Pride flag-raising ceremony on the steps of UMSU University Centre on May 28.
For the third year, the U of M is proudly sponsoring the Winnipeg Pride parade – and to highlight the university’s commitment to fostering diversity, the Pride flag will fly all week.
At the flag-raising ceremony, the two co-chairs of UMQueer – Deborah McPhail and Karan Saxena – shared their stories of the importance of the group and what it does. UMQueer is a group of faculty, staff and students working together to celebrate and advocate for diversity and inclusion at the U of M. Those in attendance included Winnipeg Pride board chair Jonathan Niemczak, President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard, Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Janice Ristock, and other members of UMQueer.
Saxena, a third-year international student spoke of UMQueer’s power of inclusivity and how welcomed he was.
“If anyone of you would have told me, a nervous, anxious, international 17-year old student three years ago that I would be standing here today, I would have absolutely not believed you, but here I am,” Saxena said. “I attribute this miracle to the multi-faceted atmosphere created by everyone at this university, who constantly work towards diversity and inclusion.”
Saxena was terrified when he first came to the U of M.
“There are usually assumptions made on the basis of my speech, my tone, my skin colour, and my body type, and it hasn’t always been the easiest to combat,” he said.
Despite this adversity he continued, he was able to get involved in a number of student groups, working and volunteering with them, being welcomed for who he is.
“The passionate student body at this university made fostering an inclusive environment seem so seamless and easy, wherein a multitude of students were able to contribute enthusiastically towards causes they believed in,” Saxena said.
Groups such as Residence Life, Justice for Women Manitoba, UMCRAFT and UMQueer allowed Saxena to develop a deep sense of pride and gave him a voice to accept and embody his identity.
“I’m ecstatic to be a part of UMQueer, which is led by driven individuals who work tirelessly to visibly celebrate the diversity that is such an essential part of the U of M,” Saxena said. “Our past initiatives in Pride by being a Gold level sponsor have paved the way for future opportunities for the queer community at the U of M.”
He went on to say how the LGBT2SQ+ community works alongside other student body councils – such as the University of Manitoba Aboriginal Students Association (UMASA) – in a spirit of decolonization and advocacy for marginalized communities.
“We at UMQueer cannot wait to use this support provided by the U of M to start initiatives that make it easier for other students like me to transition into this fast-paced and seemingly scary life, and for them to proudly believe in their capabilities no matter who they are, where they come from, and what limits society might draw out for them,” Saxena said. “With that, I want to thank you once more for all the love and support, and wish you all a Happy Pride!”