Righting the bias
How Mikayla Hunter and friends formed UM’s first Queer & Trans Graduate Student Group
Mikayla Hunter (she/they) and some of her classmates felt left out. As part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, the queer friend group didn’t see themselves represented in what they were reading for their courses — instead, they noticed that there was a bias in health care education.
“It’s based on the assumption that people are cis and hetero, when this is not the case,” says the master’s student in community health sciences who is studying the primary healthcare experiences of 2SLGBTQIA+ young adults.
Together, they decided to do something about it. They organized as a small group for queer and trans students and soon decided it needed to be a formal student group that could provide formal support and a place to discuss the issues they were encountering.
The Queer & Trans Health Sciences Graduate Student Group was born; it was recognized as a formal student group this past July, a feat made possible by co-founder Alexander Watson (he/him), the group’s former vice-president. The small group soon grew to over 30 graduate students in number.
The group recently voted to expand to include all graduate students and to rename itself the Queer & Trans Graduate Student Group.
If they were feeling invisible and left out, they reasoned, others might be feeling the same way.
Hunter explains: “We thought that there must be [other] people out there who didn’t have that support or place — a place where people could talk without fear of hetero-centric, homophobic or transphobic comments and views.”
She is proud of the new group and grateful for the support and camaraderie they’ve found there. “I am the founding president of the Queer & Trans Health Sciences Graduate Student Group at the University of Manitoba — our group is one of the first (if not the very first) U15 institutions to have a 2SLGBTQIA+ student group for health sciences students. And now, we can welcome queer and trans graduate students of all disciplines into our group!”
The expansion into a general group is important given the need for more supports for queer and trans students in the current political and global climate, adds Hunter. They emphasize the significance of representation and visibility.
Strength in numbers: ‘Something powerful about having an open, accepting, loving group’
The Queer & Trans Graduate Student Group, Hunter notes, is equal parts social group and advocacy group. On the social side, group members plan events together, build friendships, and foster connections and relationships between people.
The interpersonal aspects shade into professional support and activities. The group is active on social media, helping to promote members’ thesis research and profiles and other activity by or for the community.
It helps to have group members show up to events such as presentations to support each another.
That strength-in-numbers approach helps to raise awareness and attention that otherwise would be much more difficult alone, she says. The group plans to create action plans and advocate for important changes across the university.
The group also plans to bring in guest lectures on topics that are often absent in medical coursework due to the assumption of heterocisnormativity (the assumption that all people are heterosexual and cisgender). Another idea they have is to create a book club that would supplement coursework and generate group learning that is queer or trans oriented.
Hunter is excited about the possibilities for the future of the group and encourages other 2SLGBTQIA+ graduate students to join. Being queer and/or trans can feel isolating without the support of a wider community, she says.
And for those “worried about being out in institutional settings, there’s something powerful about having an open, accepting, loving group like this, and being loved and accepted for who you are, having shared experiences, having representation,” they say.
“You don’t have to worry about masking that identity!”
Any queer and/or trans graduate students at the University of Manitoba who are interested in joining the Queer & Trans Graduate Student Group are encouraged to e-mail Mikayla Hunter (hunterm7 [at] myumanitoba [dot] ca)
You can also follow the student group on Instagram at @qthsgsgroup