By the mid-1990s, two decades after English professor Michael Lynch launched Canada’s first gay-studies course at the University of Toronto, the university had become a far more welcoming place for queer individuals. There was, however, an area of neglect: curriculum. A handful of faculty and staff decided to tackle this deficit by digging into their pockets and contributing $15,000 toward the establishment of the Sexual Diversity Studies program. In 1998, University College launched the program – one of the first of its kind in Canada – with three core courses.
Sexual Diversity Studies has grown to offer major and minor undergraduate degrees and a collaborative graduate program, host events, and serve as an academic resource for anyone interested in understanding how society perceives sexual diversity and practice. Former director David Rayside says Lynch, no doubt, would have approved of the program’s engagement in serious, critical study. In 2004, the endowment for the Toronto Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies, including the Michael Lynch Grant in Lesbian and Gay History, became part of Sexual Diversity Studies at U of T.
The program’s commitment to scholarly examination drew Mark Bonham (BCom 1982) to its advisory board in 2002. “I have an affinity for the rigorous educational side of things,” he says. “It adds a legitimate point of view when you bring the academic community into debates, whether it’s about rights, or health or social issues.” In 2006, Bonham donated $1 million to name the centre the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies.
Looking ahead, Rayside hopes to build the program’s international profile, particularly among graduate and postdoctoral students. He also wants to expand the curriculum to draw greater attention to non-Western cultures, and provide students with more opportunities to conduct research abroad and take work placements in Toronto. “Our goal is to be an unequalled centre for research and teaching,” he says.