“Sad, angry, defeated, scared. These are all the things I remember feeling when I experienced my first hate crime. I wasn’t yet 23 years old, around the same age as many of these players here tonight,” said Dean of Students Jen McMillen to a crowd of athletes and spectators on Wednesday night.
Ahead of two highly anticipated men’s and women’s basketball matchups between Humber Hawks and the Mohawk Mountaineers, McMillen spoke about her experiences as an out lesbian working at an Ontario university.
“First, I received an email describing acts of violence against me. Next, our home was targeted by vandals. Finally, hateful and violent graffiti was scrawled at my work place. I share this only to answer the question that I imagine some people might be asking right now. ‘Why are we doing this tonight?’”
The short ceremony including McMillen’s remarks launched #HERETOPLAY, a new initiative between Humber Athletics and the LGBTQ+ Resource Centre. The #HERETOPLAY campaign addresses many kinds discrimination in sport, including sexuality and gender, culture or race.
“The athletes here tonight, and ones like them all over this country, should be measured on their talent, their tenacity and their sportsmanship. They are here to play,” she said.
McMillen said her story is still relevant two decades later as acts of hatred and violence remain prevalent in Canada. Flyers that promote discrimination and hate speech were found in East York and more recently at McGill University in Montreal.
“This is a symbolic event to show students, staff and faculty that they’re not only welcomed but that they matter, we want to have them here,” she said.
Ajay Sharma, head coach of the Humber Hawks women’s basketball team, looks at inclusiveness for LGBTQ+ students as an important part of Humber’s core values.
“I know that we have athletes that support that lifestyle, we have a very non-judgemental environment on our team, and we’re going to open our doors to everybody,” Sharma said.
Ceejay Nofuente, Humber women’s basketball point guard, also gave her opinion on creating safe spaces, not only the LGBTQ+ community but for everyone.
“We are open, bringing everyone together just shows that we’re not a judgemental basketball team, we are here for everyone,” Nofuente said.
While partnership with Humber Athletics is a milestone in Humber’s attempt to foster a safer, more inclusive campus for vulnerable students, McMillen still sees areas within Humber where opportunity exists for the institution to improve.
“There can be particular barriers for members of the LGBTQ+ community in terms of accessing athletic facilities and we really wanted to make a statement,” she said. “The department of Athletics of Humber is really committed to ensuring that their doors are wide open.”