Allyship at Thompson Rivers University: A Conversation with Dustin McIntyre and Jeff Sodowsky

Image: L – Jeff Sodowsky joins the wolfpack at TRU. R – Dustin and his son celebrating together at the Kamloops Pride Parade that he had a part in making a reality.

Global Philanthropic Canada sat down with Jeff Sodowsky, Vice President Pacific (he/him) at Global Philanthropic Canada and Dustin McIntyre, Alumni Manager (he/him) at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. Jeff spent over two years at TRU and was the Interim VP Advancement. Dustin and Jeff discuss their time spent working together, what Pride Season means to them, and ways that your institution can demonstrate allyship to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities not just during Pride, but all year long.

Q: How have you demonstrated allyship to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities?

Dustin: When I was a student here at TRU, I was part of the Student Union and they had a very formulaic type of representation. My first year as an elected member, we proposed having more representation specific for individuals who are underrepresented both on campus and in the community, and one of those was an LGBTQ+ representative elected to the Student Union. So, we passed that in our AGM.

The next year, I was the President of the Student Union. She came to me and said, “Hey, I’m from a small town in Manitoba.” We’re here in Kamloops, pretty blue-collar town, lumber mining, that kind of stuff. Kamloops has progressed significantly, but at the time there wasn’t outward-facing representation and she really put herself out there as the first representative and she said, “I’d really like to see a pride parade here in Kamloops.”

In 2012, we took it upon ourselves on campus to have Kamloops’ First Pride parade. Katie Hutfluss, TRU Student Union Equity Member at Large, and I went to the local media and we promoted the fact that we were doing Kamloops’ first Pride Parade  – and we did it! It was on campus. It was quite small. It was about 400 meters and we invited anyone that wanted to be part of it. It was mostly students and faculty, but we did have the BCGEU, and some other unionized members.

So we did that for a couple of years and then the city of Kamloops and a local volunteer board took that on and we have a proper Pride Parade here in Kamloops now. But we really set the table and it’s something that I’m incredibly proud of to be an ally and to and to be able to say, “We were the driving force to get that representation on campus and in the city of Kamloops.”

When Jeff first came to Kamloops, we had a pride crosswalk at our airport. One of the first things he said, with apprehension, was, “I landed in Kamloops, and the first thing I see is a pride crosswalk.” So he walks into Kamloops and says, “I’m accepted.” Then he comes on to campus and one of the first things we say to him is, “The athletic department is participating in the Pride Parade and we want to have you there.” So we got Jeff the WolfPack t-shirt he came and marched with me. There were thirty of us that walked with our banner and it was really special.

Q: What can universities or nonprofits do to level up their support of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities?

Dustin: We were the driving force. We leveled up the support. We showed publicly that we can put a hug around these people and say we’re standing with you, we’re allies. It didn’t take a ton of work either! It was low hanging fruit. All we need to do is say we’re doing this, walk across campus and show that we support these folks and they’re not separate from us. They are us! Universities can be a driving force – and TRU was, for sure.

Q: What can advancement offices do to support 2sLGBTQIA+ communities?

Jeff:  The ability to be able to profile distinguished alumni, whether they have such a title or not, but to highlight alumni and showcase them as their full selves. not only what they accomplish post academic career, but what does their life look like? Highlighting the fact that they have a partner or whatever, I think that does a huge amount for showcasing that you stand with all members of the community.

I can look at anything even from a magazine or whatever – when they’re showing a family that happens to have two adult members of the same gender, that says something and it doesn’t really make it the focus of the article. It simply says, “Here is who you are.”

Dustin: Exactly. We’re not like, “We really need a gay person, so we have to reflect it and make sure that we show that we’re in allyship.” No! We’re going to champion you because you’re exceptional. Not because you’re gay and exceptional.

Q: What does Pride Season mean to you?

Jeff: It’s not just a season. It’s all year long. Rainbows appear in every month, not just in June in nature.

I’ve said to others, I think that the use or the inclusion of pronouns is a good thing, but my husband and I are divided on this. So we’re not a homogeneous community by any stretch. And the LGBTQS+ community is not a homogeneous group either. When I see someone who is using their pronouns, or a storefront that has a rainbow sticker in their window or in a faculty member or admin office, it lets me know it’s a safe space.

As queer individuals, we grow up often managing our persona to people. We are not necessarily always being our authentic true self. We spend our adult life trying to figure out what parts of us are real and what parts we manufactured in order to survive. It’s a lot of code-switching. We ask ourselves, “Do I really believe this? Do I really feel that?” So, every time there is a signpost that says, ‘You’re safe here’, no matter who you are, I think that helps accelerate the opportunity for people to be their true authentic selves.

I had a picture of my husband and me in my office at BC Women’s Hospital.  A senior at the time ended up coming out to me during the time I was working there. Because I had that photo displayed, they finally felt comfortable to be real with the foundation. What happened was truly without intention. I created a safe space for them, and that’s what I saw Dustin and TRU do for me.