Gender and Sexual Diversity Advisor
Bre O’Handley was interviewed by Addy Strickland on January 26, 2019.
O’Handley is a StFX graduate from Guysborough, Nova Scotia with a B.Sc. Honours in Psychology.
A paper based on her Honours thesis research was published online by Psychology and Sexuality on May 22, 2017.
O’Handley is the Gender and Sexual Diversity Advisor at StFX. Her goal is to create a queer community that is celebrated.
AS: Can you give me a little bit of history on pride at StFX?
BO: Chris Frazer would probably be the person to go to when it comes to Pride at StFX! I started as a student at X in 2012, and while I remember Pride Week happening each year and there always being a Pride Week issue of the Xaverian, I actually wasn’t very involved as a student with the happenings of Pride during my undergrad! Chris Frazer has been at StFX since 2004 and has really been the person to spearhead much of what now happens as Pride Month at X, along with the help of the X Pride student society of course! Chris spent about 15 years working as the LGBTQ advisor on a volunteer basis, my position, of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Advisor at StFX, was just created in 2017. Before then, different faculty members, particularly Dr. Chris Frazer and Dr. Rachel Hurst, did the heavy lifting when it came to supporting LGBTQ+ issues and students at StFX!
AS: Have you noticed any changes in what pride month looks like since you started working here?
BO: Absolutely! As I mentioned above, before my position was created Pride happened every year, but often took the form of “Pride Week.” One of my main goals my first year on the job was to expand that into a Pride Month, so 2018 was the first time (to my knowledge) that StFX had a full month of Pride events! In the past, when it was Pride Week, many of the events were primarily student centred and happened at the Inn, which was a fantastic way to celebrate! But now that we have a whole month to jampack with events, X Pride and I have been able to organize quite a variety of events. We kick off the month with the Pride Flag Raising, as a way to think about how far the queer community here at X, and everywhere, has come but also to acknowledge how far we have to go. Then the month is peppered with engagements like lectures, panels, coffeehouses, film screenings, games nights, LGBTQ+ inclusive church services, Sex Toy Bingo and we always finish off with the always incredible Priscilla: Queen of the Highlands drag show.
AS: Why is pride month so important? What does pride month do for the StFX and Antigonish community?
BO: Pride Month is important anywhere, but especially on the StFX campus because the campus climate here is so heteronormative and cis-normative. During my time as an undergrad, I found it really hard to find the LGBTQ+ community at StFX and really wish that I had had more of that support as a student. When you’re LGBTQ+ at StFX, a school that does still lack diversity and has a long history of homophobia, in part due to the rural context, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. While I met so many incredible people and learned so much during my time as an undergrad, it always felt like I was missing something when it came to engaging with and celebrating my queer identity. Having a month where we celebrate and actively engage in queer culture is so important for LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty as it sends a signal that we’re here, we’re queer and everyone else is going to have to get used to it. I think Pride Month also offers a space to the Antigonish community of LGBTQ+ folks. While I will admit that our events are mostly catered towards StFX students, staff and faculty, community members are always very welcome at any of the events that X Pride and I host and we love to have community members come and engage with us! Again, the rural context of Antigonish can make for a difficult time as a queer person, as there is still homophobia, biphobia and transphobia on this campus and in this town, and not as many resources as you would find in a place like Halifax.
AS: There have been so many great events this month - do you have a favourite? Why?
BO: I think my favorite new event this Pride Month would have to be the What I Love About Being Queer film screening and panel discussion. I first discovered the What I Love About Being Queer book and film by Vivek Shraya last year when I was shopping for resources for my office at Venus Envy in Halifax. I had never seen a book like it before and instantly knew I needed to have it in my office. The purpose of What I Love About Being Queer is to focus on the positive narratives of being queer, something that too often we overlook as we still have many struggles and discrimination that we must focus on. The book and film contains answers from a diverse group of queer Canadians to the question, “what do you love about being queer?” The first time that I read the book was in a café in Halifax right after I bought it, my partner and I started reading and blew through the book within half an hour. I’m not a big public crier, but there was no way I could hold back the tears while reading this book, not because it’s sad but because it was so incredibly moving to see so many people celebrating being queer and it was content that I, like the author, can attest to having needed so many times before in my life. So being able to share this message and film with the StFX queer community and allies at the screening was really special for me, and to have the incredible panel of queer professors and community members was so refreshing and fascinating. Even at StFX, the queer community proves to be more diverse than you might think.
But, I think my all-time favorite Pride Month event has to be Priscilla. I know I sing its praise every year but it’s true when Dr. Frazer says that it’s the best drag show east of Montreal and it is just such an engaging and wildly fun event every single year. We’ve already sold over a third of tickets for this year’s Priscilla, so if you want to make it to the show this year (and trust me, YOU DO) you’re going to want to snag a ticket ASAP! They are being sold in the third floor SUB Lobby 9am-3pm, Monday-Friday until Feb 1st!
AS: Pride month is, obviously, just one month. What suggestions do you have to help the StFX community celebrate pride all year round?
BO: There are lots of events that folks can go to celebrate pride all year round! My office and X-Pride organize events every month, like the X Pride Coffeehouses and Spill the Tea sessions! X Pride coffeehouses happen at the Tall and Small café and are a chance for folks to perform music, spoken word, whatever they want, Sadie Goering organizes those so if anyone ever wants to perform, they can contact them to get involved! Spill the Tea sessions happen monthly which I organize with X Pride, it’s an informal discussion group and we pick a topic each month, like coming out or gender identity, and just talk it out with each other. I run an annual lecture series: The Gender and Sexual Diversity lecture series, so there will be talks monthly for the rest of the year that folks can attend! February 26th, spoken word artist, Kavi Ade, will be performing on campus! X Pride releases a calendar of events each term, so if you want to stay up to date on ways to celebrate pride year-round, definitely get involved with them or join the Facebook group “X-Pride 2018-2019” to stay in the loop!
AS: Evidently, representation is really important - do you have any thoughts on what needs to be done to ensure that the queer community is fairly represented by student government?
BO: I believe there is a possibility that an LGBTQ+ Representative will be added to Council this upcoming academic year, although I’m not 100% sure, and I think that that would help to ensure the queer community is fairly represented by student government. We’ve been lucky the past two years to have a union that was fairly educated and cared about issues of equity, at least with regards to the LGBTQ+ community, and so I hope to see the same in coming years. I think that having members of student government complete training around LGBTQ+ issues and gender inclusivity is a fantastic way to move towards being more aware of how decisions may impact LGBTQ+ students, so I would certainly recommend members of student government to seek out Positive Space training and similar programs to stay informed.