Getting to know Bre O’Handley, Gender & Sexual Diversity Advisor
It’s pride month here at StFX and so far the events have been showcasing that StFX knows how to celebrate. The events that are being put on range from lectures, coffee houses, concerts and many more.
It’s taken a number of people to help facilitate and organize these events, however one of the people that has been both behind the scenes and at the forefront of pride month is Bre O’Handley Bre is the Gender and Sexual Diversity Student Advisor at StFX. Bre is the Gender and Sexual Diversity Student Advisor at StFX .
I had the chance to get to know Bre and interview her about how she's found her new job at StFX.
What pronouns do you prefer to be called by?
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Guysborough, Nova Scotia. A small town just 45 minutes from Antigonish.
How did you choose to come to StFX?
Growing up I was surrounded by teachers, family friends, and some relatives that had X Rings. Then during high school, I attended a training at StFX for the Healthy Relationships for Youth program run by the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and I fell in love with the campus.
What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face while in your position of the StFX Gender and Sexuality Advisor?
The position of the StFX Gender and Sexual Diversity Student Advisor (GSDSA) is new this academic year, which means that in taking on this position I’ve had the opportunity to carve out what this position will look like. That opportunity is very exciting, but simultaneously scary for someone who just graduated from X this past May. During my five years as an undergrad at StFX, I always felt that the queer community was generally invisible. Chris Frazer, X Pride, and many queer or queer friendly profs were doing incredible work, but nobody had the time to really bring all these areas of queer culture and community at X together. I decided in applying for this position that the first goal of my work here would be to create a visible queer community at X. I wanted queer students at X to be able to see themselves represented in their campus community and to feel their identities were celebrated rather than ignored, because that was something I rarely felt I had during my time at X. Which is a long-winded way of saying that this academic year so far has been so incredibly busy, it’s been long days, working evenings, and putting in weekend hours to organize flag raisings, coffeehouses, vigils, lecture series, and more. It’s been hard work for X Pride and I, but I certainly can’t say there have been too many roadblocks yet this year. We’ve received such incredible support from students, staff, and faculty coming out to events, academics sharing their queer inclusive research with us, and community members (such as the Tall and Small Café that hosts our X Pride Coffeehouse). It’s been an amazing academic year so far and Pride Month is in full swing.
Do you feel like you’ve been supported by StFX with your own sexuality?
Yes and no. My first two years at StFX were very tumultuous, I came to this school from a small town, already knowing that I was queer, but not quite ready to fully admit it. As a first year, my mental health was in rough shape, my academics were suffering, and I was carrying around the heavy burden of a hidden identity. While eventually I did come out that year after my first-year girlfriend showed me the music video for Same Love by Macklemore and I cried like a baby (2012 was one helluva ride), I still felt immensely alone at StFX. As a first year, I found it impossible to find any kind of queer community at X. StFX is a very heteronormative school, which meant I was slowly becoming the token gay friend in my friend group, and while I joked about it consistently, that was a very isolating situation for me. There’s no questioning that StFX has a strong party and hook up culture, and so for my first-year self, while all my friends were engaging in a fun hook up culture and feeling as though they were finding themselves, I was falling into the party culture in a way that more closely resembled a substance use problem. After turning things around in my third year, it’s definitely true that things got better, but I can only imagine what a strong queer community and representation would have meant to me during my first two years here. And even after those two years, I still felt invisible in the curriculum, still felt fear when holding my partner’s hand on campus, and watched almost all my partners experience biphobia, sometimes even in the form of sexual violence.
All of these past experiences are what motivated me to apply for the position of Gender and Sexual Diversity Student Advisor. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to bring queer research at X to the general campus population, provide spaces for queer students, staff, and faculty to gather, and work to combat and bring awareness to the still prevalent issues of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The support that the queer community at X has received from students, faculty, and staff coming out to events, such as the Pride Flag Raising, Pride Month Vigil, X Pride Coffeehouse, and the GSDSA Lecture Series has been incredible.
Have you had a successful time interacting with the student’s union and the administrators?
Absolutely! The student’s union made it clear from the start of the academic year that they wanted to support the queer community at X in any way they can. Patrick Panet-Raymond has been especially supportive. Patrick came with X Pride, other X students, and I to march in the Halifax Pride parade this past summer and did a great job speaking at the Pride Flag Raising at the start of this month. Andrew Beckett has also been a great ally on campus, while he couldn’t be at the Pride Parade in Halifax he helped X Pride get involved in the parade. Andrew also did an incredible job speaking on behalf of administration at the Pride Flag Raising. It’s also been so fantastic to see President Kent MacDonald out to Pride Month events such as the Flag Raising and Dr. Blair’s GSDSA lecture on the paradox of modern sexual prejudice.
And finally, what do you see in terms of the future of our school and its LGBTQ+ community?
The goal coming into the present academic year was to create a visible queer community at StFX, which I definitely think X Pride and I have made some great headway on. Especially with all the Pride Month events this month, I think we’re definitely visible. However, I think the next step is fostering a more active community, creating more spaces for LGBTQ students, staff, faculty and community members to gather, have discussions, and celebrate queer culture. Luckily, Pride Month is packed with events to foster such a community. T Thomason, an Antigonish local and ECMA nominated queer musician, will be playing at The Inn on Friday, January 26th. There will be a Pride Worship Service at 2pm on Sunday, January 28th for people of all faiths. Then X Pride will be hosting events at the Inn all week, such as Pints n’ Paints, Queer Trivia, Get Real Wing Night, and the crowd favorite, Sex Toy Bingo. Sex Toy Bingo will be hosted by the same wildly talented drag queens that will be performing at the Annual Priscilla, Queen of the Highlands show on Friday, February 2nd. Prior to this Xav issue, events such as the Pride Month Vigil, GAYmes Night, the Cultural Connections LGBTQ Potluck, and the X Pride Coffeehouse will have also provided spaces to foster community during Pride Month.
And one final question, what is your favourite weird food combinations?
This is tough, I’ll pretty much eat anything (except for pickles). It might not be THAT weird, but I gotta say as a good Maritimer I would probably put donair sauce on anything.