International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia
When it comes to LGBTQ2S+ activism, Phil Ollenberg, assistant registrar at Bow Valley College, says it best: “It's not just parades and drag queens; it’s changing hearts and minds.”
His words reflect the mission of Quebec non-profit Fondation Émergence, which fights against homophobia and transphobia. In 2013, Fondation Émergence declared May 17 the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a day that many organizations join the non-profit in celebrating.
To celebrate the rights of the LGBTQ2S+ community, we met with Brett Bergie, our chief of staff in the Office of the President, Dara MacKay, an instructor in the School of Global Access, and Phil, and it was a powerful conversation.
Q: Have you been affected by homophobia or transphobia, in the traditional sense or in a less direct way, that has left you feeling marginalized? If so, how have you experienced it?
Brett Bergie: I have experienced transphobia, homophobia, I identify homophobia because my partner's a woman. So, when we're out together, those stares are in part because I'm trans, but also that we're both women. We get sometimes a negative reception in places, which can include even a health [care] environment. My wife is a cancer survivor, and we've had instances where, being in a health environment, being a couple with a trans partner has been not well understood. And so, we find ourselves in the role of having to either educate people or make a complaint because we felt like we were mistreated.
Dara MacKay: All the time. In regular media, you see heterosexual couples. You don't see families like mine, where I have a wife and I have kids from my previous relationship, and it's all women in my house; you don't see those things reflected in popular media as much. Even in the wording of things like surveys and filling out the census, because that's just come out. Of course, it's getting a lot better. When I was signing up for COVID vaccines, for gender, for example, they have male-female, prefer not to say, they have non-binary, they have trans male, they have trans female, they have all of the different things, but that's new, that's not something that I've seen before. And so, you kind of just feel put to the side or not recognized in a lot of the things that are part of popular culture.
Phil Ollenberg: I've faced discrimination, I've faced threats, and I've faced physical violence as an adult based on my perceived queerness, whether that's online, it's been in public, it's been in what one would consider a safe space, like a gay bar. There have been more than a few times that I've been physically threatened, that my partner has been physically threatened on our way to and from places, even just walking down the road on a regular day, going to and from the Pride festival in Regina [Phil’s hometown], to and from the Pride festival here in Calgary. You learn to avoid certain groups; you learn to adopt a stronger and tougher posture.
Q: Tell me about a few times you’ve participated in LGBTQ2S+ activism.
Phil Ollenberg: In terms of my work on the [Regina] Pride board, one of the big things I did was, organize the annual Pride festival; we organized events, both at the Regina City Hall and the Saskatchewan provincial legislature. I met constantly throughout the year with business leaders, with media, with politicians at the local, provincial, and federal level, to talk about queer rights, discrimination, health care, inclusion. And, maybe the part that helped the Pride organization the most is I helped fundraise tens of thousands of dollars for the Pride festival. And that, in turn, helps elevate that visibility, the advocacy work that the organization is able to do on an ongoing basis, and the exposure that it has throughout the community and throughout the region.
Q: How has the College supported you in the fight against homophobia and transphobia?
Brett Bergie: I have only good things to say about the College. The first time I came out to anybody in terms of going in this direction, I met with Karen Thomas in Human Resources. And I basically said, quite bluntly, my intent is, I don't want to compartmentalize my life, I want to live authentically, and it means I’m going to be wearing women's clothing to work. And I'll never forget, Karen just took that in and then just had a very reasoned response. She was like, yeah, I don't see why you can't do that. But my point is, is I wasn't made to feel weird. I wasn't othered. What I was bringing forward was accepted as legitimate and acceptable.
Dara MacKay: I feel really fortunate to work at the College. And I do feel very supported. In the beginning, I didn't know how out I was able to be because it was still fairly new [to me]. It took me some time to sort of start being more and more out at the College and there's never ever been a time, talking to a colleague, talking to anybody like my dean, my associate dean, my program chair, nobody blinked, nobody said anything. And that felt really great. Because it just feels like a part of the culture where it's inclusive.
For LGBTQ2S+ supports, services, and resources, please visit this page of our website.
Posted on May 17, 2021