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Urban geographer studies role of straight allies in gay politics

WorldPride offers Torontonians myriad opportunities to join educators, activists, artists, journalists and policymakers from around the world as they explore and celebrate the history, present and future of the LGBTQ community.

And for many, the sold-out WorldPride Human Rights Conference taking place at U of T June 25 through 27 is the centerpiece of this extraordinary week. The conference gives academics and the general public a chance to hear from leading researchers and activists about the continued struggles faced by LGBTQ people here and in other parts of the world. (Read more about the conference.)

U of T’s John Paul Catungal, who just graduated with a PhD in geography this month, will be watching WorldPride from afar. Awarded a Governor General’s Gold Medal for his dissertation, For Us, By Us: Political Geographies of Race, Sexuality and Health in the Work of Ethno-Specific AIDS Service Organizations in Toronto, the Killam Honorary Fellow has already headed to the University of British Columbia to start new research examining the role of straight allies in contemporary queer politics.

U of T News writer Dominic Ali caught up with him to learn more.

Why did you choose to study at U of T in the first place?

I chose to stay at U of T after doing my M.A. here because the Department of Geography has many amazing faculty members, two of whom (Matthew Farish and Deborah Leslie) I was lucky enough to have as mentors. I also appreciated the presence of the politically active graduate student and TA unions, which was important to me given that workplace quality and accessibility of post-secondary education are issues that I am passionate about.

What’s your most memorable educational experience at U of T?

My most memorable educational experience was co-editing the landmark book Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility with U of T colleagues Roland Sintos Coloma and Bonnie McElhinny, Ethel Tungohan and Lisa Davidson.

The book was a bit of a detour from my dissertation research, but it was a personal and political passion of mine. It was such a pleasure working with my co-editors and with the contributors to the volume. I learned quite a lot about teamwork, about the book publishing process and about myself as a Filipino-Canadian immigrant academic.

What advice do you have for current PhD students?

Try to be involved in the social and political life of the university. There are a lot of student-run organizations (course unions, student clubs, the Graduate Students Union), and they offer many activities and opportunities. Take advantage of them, and give back by being involved! I had such a great time on the executive of the Graduate Students Union and also as co-chair of the GSU’s Queer Caucus and an active organizer with Qu(e)erying Religion. Being involved in these organizations definitely made grad school a more fun and rewarding experience.

How has U of T helped you with other aspects of life?

I always insist that the university is its students and workers. My encounters with faculty members and fellow workers and graduate students within and outside my department were central to my growth not only as an academic, but also as a person. I count myself blessed to have met these fine folks at U of T. As friends, co-organizers, classmates, co-workers, instructors and mentors, these folks have definitely helped shape my view of the world.