Western is home to a Queer Caucus, a group that links 2SLGBTQIA+ faculty members, staff and graduate students both academically and socially. Co-founder Susan Knabe, professor and associate dean in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, spoke with Western News about the caucus’ history over the last 15 years.
Western News: Why is it important to have a Queer Caucus on campus, this space to build both academic and social connections?
Susan Knabe: We often think, especially those of us in the arts and humanities or the social sciences, and in the university more generally, that sexuality isn’t a big deal anymore. But it still is, and we’re seeing this increasingly as we look to the U.S. attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion. That’s really problematic and we can see those things being part of the university landscape in North America.
It’s helpful to remember, Pride started as a riot. It started as a political protest. It did not start as a celebration. I think about that a lot, as a student of history, and a student of queer history. It’s great to be part of a wider celebration of the community, but it’s also important to recognize those gains are hard-won, and they can be rolled back and have been in other places in the world. For me, that’s always the bittersweet part of Pride. We celebrate, but we also fight.
It’s very easy to imagine (a scenario) where the work I do – teaching feminist and queer and decolonial theory and methodology – suddenly becomes a target. And in speaking out about it, you become a target. That’s the backdrop to this (Queer Caucus).
WN: What kind of work does the caucus do?
Knabe: Queer Research Day, which happens every year in April, is our marquee event. It’s a way to show each other that we’re here, so those connections can be made and happen.
It’s a broad tent. You don’t have to be a queer person to be presenting. Faculty members and graduate students and sometimes undergraduate students present research posters. It’s a way to refocus on what we do as academics. There’s a meal, and people talk and see people they haven’t seen for the rest of the year. There’s a social component to it and there’s also the academic component – it’s about building community and reminding us we’re not alone.
All of a sudden you’re actually in a room where the conversation doesn’t start at the base level of what your work is, it starts much higher up. When we present to our straight colleagues . . . the onus is often on minorities to do the educating for the majority. That’s important work we undertake on behalf of our community, but it’s nice sometimes to be among colleagues who know where you’re coming from, understand the theoretical premises, that are part of your intellectual community.
WN: How has Queer Caucus evolved over the years?
Knabe: It responds when things happen. We responded, I think really effectively, when Jordan Peterson was invited to speak a few years ago. There were calls to protest and boycott his speaking. Instead, because that is exactly what Jordan Peterson wants – that’s oxygen for his fire and for his supporters – the Queer Caucus arranged a teach-in the day following his talk. It was so interesting. We actually filled a lecture hall, about 200 people. This was the university doing what the university should do, not engaging in cancel culture and who can yell louder, but saying, ‘let’s look at this and strip the rhetoric away and look at what’s going on here.’ It was a really powerful demonstration of what is best about places like Western. That was one of our signature moments right there.
WN: What’s the best way for people to support queer faculty, students and staff?
Knabe: Informing yourself on how to be an ally is really important. We’re reaching out to people, but I think it’s also helpful to let us know you’re out there as an ally. Come out to Queer Research Day, don’t be afraid to ask those questions. We want to grow our support base and (have others) recognize the work we’re doing is important and it’s hard, especially the emotional work. That’s so invisible. Sometimes you’re the only person someone can come out to. Just the recognition that it’s not all rainbow crossings and celebration, there are still real changes that need to happen – they should be part of those changes.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.