Diversity Week

A Note from the Osgoode OUTlaws

Co-Chair, 2011-2012, Osgoode OUTlaws

This week is Diversity Week, and the Osgoode OUTlaws are proud to be joining many other clubs as part of the celebrations and activities. February 14th will be Pink Triangle Day, a day to honour and celebrate the LGBTQ community here at Osgoode. My Co-Chair Frances Mahon, the executive, and I have organized a panel discussion on LGBTQ immigration at 2:30 in Room 1004. The panel will feature Michael Battista, a lawyer, professor and specialist in immigration and refugee law; Suhail Abualsameed, the Coordinator of the Sherbourne Health Centre’s Newcomer Community Engagement Program; Karlene Williams-Clarke, the LGBT Newcomer Community Services Coordinator at the 519 Church Street Community Centre; and finally, Osgoode’s own Sean Rehaag, professor and expert in the field of immigration law. Drinks and food will be provided. It promises to be an excellent discussion, and we hope you will all attend.

Pink Triangle Day and Diversity Week in general also give one pause to think about their own experiences with diversity here at school. What is it like to be gay at Osgoode? Having grown up in a small town, where harassment of LGBTQ individuals was the norm, my perspective is somewhat coloured by the fact that I figured anything could have been better than that. But I must still say that my experience here at Osgoode has been overwhelmingly positive. Within a few days of arriving here in the big city, I had already built myself a network of incredible friends, which included several LGBTQ identified people. My first year section in particular seemed to have a large number of LGBTQ students, which ensured that issues pertaining to our community were brought up and discussed with some regularity. I cannot recall our professors having been dismissive, and save for a few small-minded individuals, the comments from our peers were respectful and tolerant. This atmosphere inspired me to become involved in LGBTQ activities here and in the larger community. I’m especially proud to have joined forces with Frances to revive the OUTlaws, Osgoode’s LGBTQ club. We’ve worked hard to provide a number of events and activities for our membership, and we hope that future members will carry on in our tradition, growing the club and increasing its’ influence in the future.

Naturally, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for everyone here at Osgoode. My experiences have typically been good, but not always, and I know many other students have not experienced the wonderful time I’ve enjoyed. First, there are problems in the legal community at large. Programs for those with HIV are woefully understaffed and underfunded, and having done the OCI process, I now have a dinner party anecdote about the interview during which I had to describe what “being out” means, and what the acronym LGBT stands for. At Osgoode, Frances and I have heard concerns about the lack of LGBTQ issues in the curriculum, not to mention certain insensitive remarks from professors and other students. It ought to go without saying that all members of the Osgoode community should feel comfortable here. As a group, we need to be mindful of the things we say. We should feel free to express our opinions openly, but as future lawyers, these opinions ought to be expressed in an intelligent and useful way, not in a crass or ill-thought out manner. I think we can all agree to that. One particularly problematic issue is the lack of openly LGBTQ faculty members. A school’s faculty should reflect the diversity of its student body. From my perspective, Osgoode appears to have attracted some of the best and brightest minds from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. It would appear they have not had the same success with openly gay faculty. The private lives of our professors are simply that- private. However, the support and guidance of LGBTQ faculty can do quite a bit to encourage gay students. Their unique expertise and perspectives from having worked in academia and often in the law firm environment are vital to many students who require mentorship. The lack of LGBT role models is a real shame. And so, as you proceed this week, I ask that you think about the way you can encourage diversity in all its forms at Osgoode.

It takes but a simple act to achieve this:
  • Apply the skills you’ve acquired here to daily conversation; chiefly the skill of trying to examine things from all angles.
  • Question some of your old stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Allow yourself to be open to persuasion, rather than being staid and stalwart in your opinions.
Such small acts foster an atmosphere of open-mindedness, which achieves tolerance. Tolerance and understanding, in turn, create the community of diversity which we are trying to strive for, not just during Diversity Week, but every week.