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Queer McGill defends safe space after online backlash

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From January 26 to February 5, Queer McGill (QM) will be hosting its seventh annual Rad Sex Week, an event series seeking to explore and destigmatize anti-oppressive, feminist, trans- and queer-positive expressions of sexuality. The two-week-long event will be largely comprised of workshops to provide the McGill community with educational materials on more alternative or stigmatized sexual activities.

"[We are] making an inclusive space for any people or persons who [vary] from what we would normally characterize as ‘vanilla’ sex," said QM Events Coordinator Erin Strawbridge in an interview with The Daily.

Some of the workshops aim to facilitate discussions on topics like sex and disability, consent, and BDSM, while others offer a more technical, hands-on approach to sexual practices, such as flogging and piercing play.

Speaking to The Daily, QM coordinators noted that, although the week focuses on non-traditional practices, workshops touching on consent and ethics are applicable to any type of sex or sex education.

"We came together and decided which workshops we’d like to see based on diversity purposes but also where there was a need. Workshops that you typically don’t see – those were the workshops we wanted to have," said Sabine Grutter, QM Resource Coordinator and one of the main organizers of Rad Sex Week.

Safe space causes online backlash

On January 18, the organizers of the week had to deal with some unexpected backlash on the Rad Sex Week Facebook event page about one of the workshops, which will explore trans and queer people of colour’s (POC) sexual and romantic desires from a decolonization perspective. The event, entitled "Desires: A QT*POC Exploration," is closed to queer and trans people of colour; some commenters argued that this was exclusionary.

"The QM page started being trolled," said Grutter. "People who weren’t interested in the event started commenting about the fact that they didn’t agree with it and the politics surrounding it."

The original comment thread reached about 200 responses. After QM published a response, more hateful and triggering comments were posted, which prompted QM to start deleting comments.

"Everyone whose comments we deleted, we sent [them] a message explaining why," said Grutter, adding that QM has screenshots of all the comments.

As the comments in question were posted during a QM staff orientation session where most of the QM board was present, QM was able to quickly decide on a collective response.

The response acknowledged the institutionalized oppression of people of colour and the importance of providing a safer space for people who don’t want the voices of white people and the history of white supremacy and colonization weighing into conversations of POC romance and sexuality.

The coordinators also commented on some of the misunderstandings and questions that arose on the events page, one of them being a misinterpretation of the acronym LGBT*QIA.

"It’s a weirdly common mistake of assuming that in the LGBT*QIA, the A stands for 'ally,' which it does not – it stands for asexual," said Strawbridge. "The fact [is] that allyship isn’t a foot in the door for any of these spaces. Allies should be the ones promoting the allowances of these spaces, not intervening on the basis of being an ally."

Other commenters questioned who can be considered a person of colour.

"We do not want to bring up any instances of shadism or policing race; this event is open to anyone who self-identifies as a person of colour and is queer or trans [who wants] to come to this space and take something away from it," said Grutter. "If you show up to the space, and you are clearly there to devalue the experience…you will be asked to leave."

The entire event page was eventually deleted by Facebook, after the QM coordinators’ account was reported for being "a community organization acting as a person," according to Grutter.

Regardless of the backlash, the QM coordinators look forward to the events and encourage everyone to attend.

"You don’t have to be kinky per se to come to these events," said Grutter. "The workshops are great, they’re free and accessible, they’re all bilingual, and in Montreal."


This article was originally published in the McGill Daily. It is reprinted here with permission.


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