“The first time I went anywhere as a gay person…it was 1984. I was 22-years-old and I was going to my first meeting at the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Virginia. I was absolutely terrified.”
At a talk organized by Queer Concordia on Tuesday, Jan. 14, Concordia President Alan Shepard reflected on his experiences being openly gay in life and in academia.
“Flash-forward about five years after that – with many adventures in between – I was the president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union, which if you told me in 1984, it would have seemed as far-fetched as emigrating to Quebec and becoming university president,” said Shepard.
He began his speech, directed at an assembly of approximately 50 students and community members, by joking about being one of the few openly gay presidents in Canada. Shepard then recounted a series of personal stories, some light-hearted, some poignant. He spoke candidly about his early life growing up in a small town in the Midwestern United States, his coming-out process and his role as a parent.
“If you had said to me at 23, ‘Will you have kids? Will you have a partner of a long time? Will you have financial stability? Will you have professional recognition and success’? All those things that, to various degrees, people want, I would have been pretty discouraged,” he said.
The talk was very well received, with organizers and attendees praising Shepard’s openness and candour.
“I was positively surprised how personal he was with us,” said Marie-Lisa Porten, events coordinator at Queer Concordia. “It’s one thing to be out, it’s another thing to talk to students about ‘this is how I met my partner and we adopted two kids’.”
After the talk, Shepard stayed to speak with students and receive feedback.
“I feel Concordia is a very accepting community,” said Jade Legault, a board member at Queer Concordia. “Having you as president is very empowering.”