Peer Allies play an important role on campus — working with staff, administration and students to make Dal a more welcoming and accessible place for LGBTQ individuals.
Laura (Clark) McIntosh is one of the most dedicated Peer Allies on campus, but Laura’s work in the trans community goes well beyond the borders of campus. This past fall, Laura was recognized by Nova Scotia’s Youth Project with a tile on its TransMosaic, which celebrates individuals doing outstanding work for the transgender community.
Working as Peer Ally, some of the problems Laura focuses on are systemic, and many are continuously evolving. One notable challenge facing trans students, historically, has been a lack of a washroom that feels comfortable. To solve this problem, Laura worked with the Dal Allies, the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention and Facilities Management to help bring more gender-neutral washrooms to campus.
“The reality is that things just aren’t built with trans-folk in mind,” Laura explains. “Physical architecture like male and female washrooms is just one example. Another is computer systems that only allow for two gender options. The list goes on. So, with the Allies, I work toward more inclusive solutions.”
There are also less physical issues, which can be more solvable but with a greater audience to reach. Many of the barriers trans students face come from a lack of knowledge on the part of those they are interacting with. To work through this, Laura hosts workshops on trans and queer issues for the Dal Community.
Although there are many challenges to overcome, Laura sees progress and increasing recognition of the LGBTQ community, especially on campus.
“When I started as Peer Ally, we were working with one or two students who wanted to change their name on a class list, or their Dal Card, and we could bend the rules because it was one or two. Now, we hear the voice of a large community that needs more then bending rules. It needs new rules and policies that consider the things that just weren’t thought of before.”
During the school year, the majority of Laura’s time is spent one-on-one, helping students with problems individually.
A significant number of Peer Ally interactions, particularly in the fall term, are with students that have come to university from smaller centres without a present LGBTQ community. Spending a semester in a place with the resources and connections to make being yourself feel safe can make it daunting to return to a place without them. When the holidays approach, many of these students feel anxious of seeing families for the first time since coming out; some even fear physical violence.
In December, Laura provided a safe space to talk through the fear, and suggestions for a smoother trip home. This support continues through January with debriefing and continuing support for returning students.
In the community
Laura is also active in the off-campus LGBTQ community, working with the Youth Project, Transformers, the Halifax Drag Kings, and the Trans Action Society. Working with these groups can range from hosting monthly support groups to performing to raise money for charity. In late November, Laura performed with the Drag Kings as part of "Gottingen Street for Scott Jones," raising money for the 27-year-old New Glasgow musician who was left paralyzed from the waist down after being attacked because of his sexuality.
“What I do as an advocate is about visibility, about showing that there’s more to the world — more gender identities than are generally experienced — and it’s important to be aware of it,” Laura says. “The Drag Kings are one way to do that, and support great causes at the same time – not to mention it’s super fun.”
A background in psychology and social work at Dal are invaluable to Laura as Peer Ally and advocate, but the drive to make a difference comes from personal experience. “I started in biology, then I did some astro-physics before it dawned on me that I really wanted to do more, and give back. I wanted to work with people, and help those that are tired of trying to fit inside the box.”
Committed to that goal, Laura would like to go on to work in a smaller centre where there is not a lot of advocacy or support and to focus on providing resources to youth and raising awareness for LGBTQ issues and rights.
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