null Celebrating Pride Month with the first Pride in Research seminar

The RI-MUHC led a one-hour webinar to explore the perspectives of LGBTQIA2S+ people in the research space


June is Pride Month, an opportunity to celebrate members of the LGBTQIA2S+ communities, understand their realities and challenges, and celebrate their accomplishments.

This year the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) was proud to host the first Pride in Research seminar, held on June 19, 2023. This one-hour webinar aimed to show the different perspectives of members of LGBTQIA2S+ communities, particularly with respect to research environments.

Moderated by EDI specialist Diego Herrera, PhD, this webinar brought together a panel consisting of Jason Harley, PhD, associate professor of surgery in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University and scientist in the Injury Repair Recovery Program at the RI-MUHC; Diane Labelle, a regional educational advisor in adult education for the First Nations Adult Education School Council and co-founder of Cercle Indigiqueer Circle, the first regional Two-Spirit group in Quebec; Harlan Pruden, PhD student at Simon Fraser University, co-founder of the Two-Spirit Dry Lab and Indigenous knowledge translation lead at Chee Mamuk, an Indigenous health program at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control; and Milo Ira, M.Sc. student at Simon Fraser University and team member of the Two-Spirit Dry Lab.

Panelists began by introducing themselves and explaining how they relate to the gender and sex identities spectrum in everyday life. Labelle, Ira and Pruden, all of whom are from First Nation communities, agreed that existing gender identities in English do not necessarily reflect their own gender identity. They explained the intersection of different identities that makes navigating Western notions of gender identity complex.

“It’s the complexity of this that we want to unpack,” explained Pruden. “It has huge implications when it comes to research. How do we honour these concepts? If I am only given an opportunity to honour my gay identity within a Western framework, I take that as a [form of] active colonization. Colonizers need to cede space so that I am given the right, the possibility, to honour my creed.”

In discussing the relation of identities and pronouns, Pruden and Labelle noted that in Indigenous languages, the pronoun “it” is not dismissive – but that integrating this idea within a Western context proves intricate. Panelists explained that in the Cree and Mohawk nations, the pronoun “it” can refer to an animal, thing or person. “It” may reveal cultural conceptions that establish close and egalitarian connections between humans and their environment or territory.

The moderator next brought up the topic of the relationship that a non-binary person might have to research.

“From a queer and non-binary point of view, what I notice are situations where questions aren’t asked and where queer people from sexual orientation and gender identity minority communities are often excluded in research studies,” explained Harley. “This is a problem for a number of reasons, but one of the main problems is that when we don’t ask participants in a sensitive and effective way about their sexual orientation or gender identity, we don’t know how various issues and conditions may affect these participants differently. This is a problem because research can lead to improvements in policy. When we don’t know these things, it can be challenging.”

“It’s really a shame that we stay within this paradigm,” added Herrera. “We only cover the majority of people, or the ‘average’ of people, or we consider that it’s not really worth it statistically to include everyone. We really need to work to understand this reality, and this will open the possibility of enriching our data.”

Labelle brought up the Two-Spirit point of view, commenting that a combination of methodologies makes research more inclusive, and that Western ideas of statistical validity limit inclusivity. “Every individual matters,” Labelle explained. “Every individual counts. Simply by the fact that they are there, they matter.” Using mixed research techniques, including both quantitative and qualitative studies, and seeing research as a collaborative experience can contribute to uplifting the voices of communities often excluded from research.

The panelists then explored the way populations are negatively affected if research studies are done without including them, whether by ignoring context or by focusing only on numbers. “There’s a structure of pathology inherent to colonial research that we have to reject,” said Ira, whose work also encompasses neurodiverse populations. “There is this idea of attaching, for example, a health risk factor to the human being when the risk factor is coming from the outside environment, especially in neurodiverse spaces.

“Change the person? No. Change the environment. That’s how we have to be, starting with academia.”

The group explored the topic of neurodiversity and disabilities – namely, how dyslexic and other neurodiverse people are seen through the prism of research. “Is it a disability or is it a different ability?” asked Harley, who are themselves dyslexic. “There’s been research pointing to dyslexic people having a different way of thinking and to that being helpful. Intelligence agencies, for some reason, are interested in recruiting us.”

Harley mentioned the importance of not pathologizing people and always considering the intersectionalities they find themselves in, adding, “There has to be some knowledge of people who belong to gender identity and sexual orientation minorities in order to effectively interpret the results you’re having, and then to make positive and constructive recommendations concerning what comes next.”

The panel wrapped up with a discussion of mental health in the research context. Raising topics and questions beyond the limits of one webinar, the lively discussion suggested that further Pride in Research events will be welcome in the future at the RI-MUHC.

This event was part of the RI-MUHC Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and led by the RI-MUHC’s Human Resources and Environmental Health & Safety Division.

July 20, 2023