Pride Week kicks off with pride walk and rally
A kaleidoscope of rainbow flags, thumping music and enthusiastic cheers will echo through NAIT hallways March 4 as the polytechnic officially kicks off its fifth annual Pride Week.
“What makes my heart really warm is seeing more students participate every year,” says Tim Ira, NAIT’s student diversity and inclusion coordinator.
Ira organizes the event and says student involvement has grown consistently since the first Pride Week in 2014. The week gives staff and students an opportunity to show their support and learn more about the LGBTQ2+ community.
“There’s all these people who come out of the woodwork for Pride Week and it's really important we provide them with that opportunity,” he says.
Legacy of awareness, inclusion
The focus of NAIT’s Pride Week has evolved over time. It was about awareness and outreach initially, Ira says, and now includes meetups for everyone, from aromantic or asexual students, to gender nonconforming or non-binary students. The changes reflect feedback from students who were asked to help shape this year’s festivities, he says.
Pride at NAIT student club president Amanda Gallagher says Pride Week is special to her and the LGBTQ2+ community because it helps all students feel welcome. The wide range of meetups for the NAIT community during Pride Week is a positive move, she says, and reflects the polytechnic’s inclusivity.
“We want everyone to feel like they have a place here,” says Gallagher, a Digital Media and IT student. “The world [outside of NAIT] is not so accepting, so it’s nice to have a place where we are accepted.”
An opportunity to reflect
Ira says there are three key elements to Pride Week: celebrating progress, awareness and education about the LGBTQ2+ community and its experiences, and reflecting on what still needs to happen at the institution.
Ira says the institution has made great strides over the past five years, from human resource practices that embrace gender-inclusive policies to NAIT’s involvement with Pride at Work to a recent diversity and inclusion survey.
Ira is also working with the Registrar’s Office to give students more options when disclosing gender identity on paperwork. NAIT’s Safe Spaces staff training program will be assessed to give staff tools such as guides around gender-inclusive pronouns. He’ll also be working on a diversity and inclusion strategy for the polytechnic with NAIT International and the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre.
“The progress that’s been made within NAIT is fantastic,” he says.
NAIT has also strengthened its connection to the wider LGBTQ2+ community in Edmonton. Ira says NAIT students often receive support from groups such as the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, the Edmonton Pride Festival and Queerflex.
“We take a very integrated approach to how we support students,” Ira says. “Where we can, I think it's important that we refer students to community resources.”
NAIT’s presence at the Edmonton Pride Festival has also grown over the years, he added. In 2018, NAIT president and CEO Dr. Glenn Feltham and NAIT board chair Ray Martin led a group of about 30 participants in the annual parade. Ira says he’s working on making a big splash at this year’s festivities in June.
“We want to make a bigger statement,” he says. “We want to show off our commitment to the community. Edmontonians love our school and want us to be inclusive as possible.”
What’s to come
The first five years of pride at NAIT have been great, Ira says, and he’s excited for the next five. In addition to more student-planned events, he’d like to see even more of the NAIT community attending and learning from each other.
“I’d love to see even more participation from allies,” he says. “While Pride Week centres on the LGBTQ2+ experience, it benefits everyone. It encourages all of us to self-reflect and try new things, and is an opportunity to connect with people who are different from us.”
Gallagher says she hopes the event continues to grow.
“My dream is for it to be longer than a week,” she says. “I’d love a pride month!”