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Out on Bay Street wants to help queer students

Group’s annual conference introduces students to business leaders, LGBT issues

Queer students and business leaders gather at Out on Bay Street’s annual conference.

Credit: Moe Laverty

Out on Bay Street held its eighth annual conference, an event aimed at helping queer students prepare for future careers in law and business, on Sept 12 and 13. 

The conference is the organization’s biggest event of the year. Taking place at the Toronto Marriott Eaton Centre Hotel, this year’s event catered primarily to students pursuing careers in business, law, technology and related fields — the sort of career that could lead to their working on Bay Street.

Out on Bay Street helps connect queer students and young professionals with allies and potential employers. Recurring events in Toronto include social gatherings and a speaker series — Olivia Chow spoke at the August event at The 519 Church Street Community Centre. The group also has outreach groups at universities across the country.

At the conference, students participated in an array of workshops and seminars, attended panels, networked at a career fair (meeting representatives from such companies as IBM, BMO and Deloitte), met other aspiring professionals and heard talks by such speakers as Bob Richardson, executive vice-president of public affairs at Edelman Canada.

Peter McHugh, vice-president of marketing for Out on Bay Street, says that one of the ways students benefit from attending the conference is by seeing that their talent is welcome. “A lot of the time, LGBTQ students are apprehensive about their future. They wonder if they’ll be judged because they’re openly gay; will they even get job interviews? As a student, if I come to this conference and see an organization represented here, I will think that company is more supportive,” he says. “By showing their face, [potential employers] show they’re proud to invite LGBTQ students into their workplace.”

He says the main benefit to employers is accessing a pool of talented individuals. Companies recognize that while queer students are known to be creative, they can also succeed in business and are often more driven than other students.

Brien Convery, recruiting leader with IBM Global Business Services, participated in the event for the first time this year. “For me and my team, we do look for a diverse applicant. I do not want all of my campus hires to be exactly the same,” he says. “This event is so well run and organized, and I’m impressed by the talent they’ve attracted and with the networking.”

McHugh says that Out on Bay Street is keen to address some of today’s most pressing concerns, including transgender issues. This year, the conference included a workshop called Trans Issues in the Workplace. Facilitated by The 519, the interactive workshop was a one-hour primer on some of the challenges faced by transgender people in the workplace. It covered issues ranging from vocabulary (they defined such terms as gender expression, gender identity and cisgender) to identifying ways to make the workplace safer and more inclusive.

Out on Bay Street awarded a scholarship to Caroline Trottier-Gascon, a transgender activist from Montreal. She was formally recognized for her accomplishments during the conference and was pleased with the Trans Issues in the Workplace workshop. “I was very satisfied with the level of trans inclusion at this conference,” she says. “I liked that the workshop on trans inclusion was run by a local community group, and the gendered bathrooms of the hotel were made un-gendered. Some organizations in Montreal don’t address these kinds of issues, and I was very glad that this one did.”