Employers across Canada were forced to adjust their Pride celebrations in June as the coronavirus pandemic necessitated social distancing and most traditional parades and events were cancelled.

“[The coronavirus] forced us to think about how to still create these communities we’re trying to build,” says Meryem Benslimane, equity education advisor at McGill University in Montreal.

This year, the university took all of its Pride events online, including its recurring Tea for T event, which is normally a community dinner for transgender, two-spirit, non-binary and gender-questioning students, staff and faculty. In addition to holding the event online during Pride month, the university hosted a Tea for T on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in May.

Read: What employer participation in Pride means to employees

“That gathering is so important and brings together students, staff and faculty, so [students] can see that there are staff and faculty who are trans,” says Benslimane. “And what we’ve seen is an amazing mentorship relationship between staff, faculty and the students.”

With many of its employees working remotely before the pandemic, Ceridian HCM Inc. was already no stranger to hosting virtual Pride events. But this year was the first without an in-person component.

“In the past, we’ve often done at least one webinar as part of Pride, where a special guest comes in to speak and people, regardless of where they work, can participate,” says Lisa Bull, Ceridian’s vice-president of learning excellence. “But then that was often accompanied by celebrations within the office. We’ve had luncheons, we’ve had food trucks come in, we’ve had build your own sundae events . . . where people could gather. This year, of course, everything was virtual . . . and [our employee resource group Ceridian Pride] were so creative in terms of what they did.”

Read: An in-depth look at LGBTQ+ benefits

In a virtual kick-off event during the first week of June, Ceridian Pride and the Ceridian Black Employees Network brought on guest speakers from the CANVAS Arts Action program, a nonprofit that offers gender equity, consent and LGBTQ2S+ inclusivity training. Employees listened to a spoken word poet from CANVAS and a talk on Pride’s origins as a protest, which highlighted the accomplishments of gay liberation activist and transgender drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, also touching on the importance of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. More than 200 employees tuned in to the event.

Throughout the month, Ceridian also hosted smaller events, including a virtual movie night and a trivia event. To end the month, it held a wrap-up tea party with a drag queen guest star, a fireside chat discussing what it means to be an ally and contests for the best virtual backdrop and best teacup. The event was a tribute to afternoon tea dance events that began in the 1950s, where gay men and lesbian women could get around laws prohibiting same-sex dancing and switch to mixed partners in the event of a raid. “One of the things they did a really lovely job of this year was tying history into today,” adds Bull.

She says she was “awed and inspired” by how Ceridian Pride stepped up to a tough challenge. “This is not their day job, but they do such an amazing job of being champions for their community and . . . gracious with their time and experience and their stories. They don’t have to be on a webinar talking about their lives and what they’ve been through, but they do it because they want to make the workplace a more inclusive place.”

Read: Niagara Casinos wins award for far-reaching diversity initiatives

While the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto typically sponsors a booth at its local Pride parade, this wasn’t an option this year, so the organization pivoted online, using the occasion as a learning opportunity, as well as a celebration.

“While this year COVID-19 doesn’t allow us to come together to celebrate Pride in person, we are continuing to take part in this important month by shifting our events to virtual channels,” wrote a spokesperson for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in an email to Benefits Canada. “We’re hosting one centralized online training event for staff members, volunteers and foster parents focused on trans awareness and inclusion to help us better understand this area from an intersectional lens.

“We’ve brought our awards ceremony online to ensure that we continue to recognize the children and youth in our care who are advocating for LGBTQ2S+ rights and awareness. For staff and community members who enter our facilities, we have also decorated our office space with Pride décor and have continued to share content internally and across social media with resources on how best to be an LGBTQ2S+ ally.”

Read: Scotiabank recognized for creating culture of diversity in workplace

The Home Depot Inc. is another employer that traditionally participates in Pride parades, with thousands of employees marching in various regional versions every year. This year, although events have gone virtual, more employees are engaged than ever, said Josephine Ho, senior manager of organizational effectiveness, talent and inclusion at the Home Depot Canada, in an email to Benefits Canada.

“Our associate resource group Orange Pride has planned a virtual celebration on June 29 for our associates and has activities planned throughout the month to share information and resources. Our goal is to not only engage our associates, but to listen and educate each other on topics that relate to the LGBTQ2+ community, including the history of discrimination and the use of inclusive language and personal pronouns. Orange Pride has also reallocated funding that would have been used for internal celebrations and parade materials to local charity partners that support LGBTQ2+ youth.”

Last year, more than 200 Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario employees volunteered to participate in community events and Pride parades in southern Ontario, while the crown agency held a breakfast with its LGBTQ+ leaders. Since that wasn’t possible this year, it planned digital programming for its employees and the broader community.

Read: How to use benefits to support diversity and inclusion

“Though we are sad that we cannot attend physical community events and march in Pride parades across our region, we are thrilled to be partners with [Pride Toronto] and will be participating in their digital Pride event on June 28,” wrote Mark Childs, Metrolinx’s chief marketing officer and communications, in an email to Benefits Canada.

Metrolinx is hosting virtual events for its employees, including a Pride outfit contest and a panel discussion with LGBTQ+ leaders in the agency. It also sent out internal digital content such as blog posts and videos, profiles of LGBTQ+ employees and a dates of significance calendar. In addition, the organization’s employee resource group Pride 365 is “aimed at giving all our LGBTQ+ employees and allies a voice and to enable open and honest conversation about how we can better support LGBTQ+ communities,” said Childs.

Read: Fidelity Canada wins diversity program award for driving change

The University of British Columbia also took its Pride events online this year. The university kicked off celebrations in mid-June with AlumNIGHTS Pride, an online celebration for students, faculty, staff and the broader LGBTQIA2S+ community, organized by the university’s alumni association and the Vancouver campus faculties. The event included a DJ set and a live drag performance. The UBC also hosted a virtual movie night that screened Major!, a documentary film about Black trans rights activist Miss Major, for the university’s LGBTQIA2S+ students and allies.

“In addition, [the Equity and Inclusion Office is] working on digital content to recognize Pride and honour the [LGBTQIA2S+] community members at UBC and beyond,” wrote Clare Hamilton-Eddy, director of media relations at UBC, in an email to Benefits Canada. “In terms of support services offered by the EIO, such as human rights advising, they continue to be provided virtually.”

Read: How Scotiabank supported an employee’s gender transition

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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