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Queer Concordia graduates inspire, educate and lead by example

In the second of a three-part series, meet four self-identified and proud LGBTQ alumni in making their mark filmmaking, education, counselling and publishing
August 23, 2018
By Richard Burnett

Arshad Khan: Breaking the celluloid closet

Arshad Khan, BFA 12 Arshad Khan’s 2017 autobiographical documentary Abu depicts his experiences after he came out to his Pakistani-Muslim family. | Photo: Arshad Khan

Arshad Khan, BFA 12, is a Montreal-based film director, producer, writer and film festival strategist. Khan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning autobiographical documentary Abu (2017) has played at film festivals around the world.

Abu documents his rocky relationship with his father after Khan came out as a gay man. It also chronicles the wider story of young gay people fighting homophobia and “invisibility within South Asian and Muslim culture.”

Khan also teaches guerilla filmmaking to underprivileged youth in Canada and Pakistan.

What are you doing now?

Arshad Khan: “I am working on a fiction feature film that uses Bollywood and Hollywood tropes in the context of an international city like Montreal in order to examine the hopes and dreams along with the prejudices that immigrants often carry with them when they come to call Canada home.”

What does being part of the LGBTQ community mean to you and how does it play into your work?

AK: “Being gay is a part of my identity, it is not something I can disassociate myself from. I tried that for many years and it did not work. Until I embraced it, I was not at peace. When I did embrace it, it opened my eyes to injustice, not just against my person but to other people as well. It allowed me to connect the dots. And this informs my work deeply.

Abu was a very personal film and I think this sincerity gives the work its edge. The LGBTQI community has been very supportive of my work and my film is also helping them speak to their own families.”

What was your Concordia experience like?

AK: “I thank Concordia for being there for me, for the great education I got there. I arrived in Montreal as a budding filmmaker and my studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema were very exciting. It was an invaluable experience which combined the technical and artistic, and was a very high-end education for a very reasonable price.”

Melissa-Ann Ledo: Raising diverse families

Melissa-Ann Ledo, BFA 06, MA 17 Melissa-Ann Ledo organizes the bi-monthly Rainbow Story Hour at Montreal’s Librairie Drawn & Quarterly. The event features local drag queens and a variety of members of the LGBTQ community reading stories to children. | Photo: Nicolas Gouin (l’Hibou)

Melissa-Ann Ledo, BFA 06, MA 17, is a pedagogical consultant, artist and educator based in Montreal. Her Concordia master’s thesis was titled How can Queering Contribute to Elementary Schoolteachers’ Understanding and Classroom Practice, as They Design and Implement LGBTQ Sensitive Visual Arts Curriculum?

Ledo also volunteer-runs Queerest Little Ledo Productions, which organizes the bi-monthly Rainbow Story Hour at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal. The next Rainbow Story Hours will be held on October 13 and December 1, 2018.

What are you doing now?

Melissa-Ann Ledo: “I am the educational director of an organization that runs Mikw Chiyâm, an interdisciplinary arts program, and N’we Jinan Integrative Arts Program. These programs invite indigenous and non-indigenous artists to conduct artist-residencies alongside youth within First Nations Communities.

I also started Queerest Little Ledo Productions to keep connected to the queer community. I began our Rainbow Story Hour, which is inspired by the Drag Queen Story Hours across North America. But I wanted a Montreal twist on it, so in addition to drag queens we also feature queer comedians, advocates, puppeteers, performers and social media celebrities reading stories to children, to help kids diversify their cultural experiences.

We get mostly children under the age of 5 and they absolutely love it!”

What does being part of the LGBTQ community mean to you and how does it play into your work?

M-AL: “As an educator, throughout my career it’s really important for me to be out, open and provide a safe environment for all of my students. It is important for young people to see successful out queer people doing meaningful work, to see that being queer won’t limit your path.”

What was your Concordia experience like?

M-AL: “It was very positive. I feel like my Concordia experience continued after completing both my degrees — I kept in touch with my teachers. They have been mentors.”

Shyam Anandampillai: Counselling queer students and couples

Shyam Anandampillai, MA 15 Shyam Anandampillai advises students at the McGill University Counselling Services. | Photo: Joseph Leger

Shyam Anandampillai, MA (creative arts therapies) 15, who earned an MSc in the Couple and Family Therapy Program at McGill University in 2018, is a therapist for McGill’s Counselling Service.

Anandampillai works with many LGBTQ patients as a couple and family therapist at the Montreal Therapy Centre office at the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex in Montreal.

What are you doing now?

Shyam Anandampillai: “I am employed full time at McGill University Counselling Service. I offer short-term therapy and psychotherapy for students with issues around their academics. We want them to enjoy the McGill experience as much as they can.

As a gay man, I also have an LGBTQ focus, because when you are young, life can be confusing, especially for LGBTQ students suffering from, for example, internalized homophobia. You want to guide them gently so that they grow organically.”

What does being part of the LGBTQ community mean to you and how does it play into your work?

SA: “People often ask me what the gay scene is like in Montreal and I tell them there isn’t just one scene. There are many pockets. We are not one homogenized whole. I feel like I can bring a lot of my lived experience — living in an Indian family, immigrating several times, being a person of colour, being gay and a non-French speaker — to my work.

It is important for young people to be able to see someone they can identify with. You want to guide them gently so that they grow organically.”

What was your Concordia experience like?

SA: “It was wonderful! During that time I was exposed to a lot of professors who practiced from an anti-oppressive and feminist lens. They guided me and made my university experience richer and more rounded.”

Florence Gagnon: Challenging stereotypes and creating positive role models

Florence Gagnon, BFA 11 Lez Spread the Word co-founders Florence Gagnon (pictured) and Chloé Robichaud met while studying at Concordia. | Photo: Saad Al-Hakkak

Florence Gagnon, BFA (photo.) 11, and Chloé Robichaud, BFA (film) 10, co-founded Lez Spread the Word, as an online resource for lesbians in 2012. It is now a bilingual print magazine published annually. Lez Spread the Word has published two issues since 2016, with a third scheduled for fall 2018.

Gagnon and Robichaud also created the webseries called Féminin/Féminin, which follows a group of lesbians dealing with life and love. It won two Gemini Awards in 2015 and has garnered more than two million views online.

Why did you start Lez Spread the Word?

Florence Gagnon: “There are currently only three or four major lesbian magazines in the world, and Lez Spread the Word is one of them. It was important for us to create an archive of lesbian culture for future generations, which is one of the reasons we turned to print. The web is so ephemeral, and we wanted to create something more tangible.”

How important was your time at Concordia to your identity?

LG: “I ended up defining who I was as a person while I was at Concordia. I met so many people — people from all over the world — while I was there and many of them are now people I collaborate with on a professional level, daily.”

How did your time at Concordia and in the Department of Studio Arts influence you?

LG: “The whole studio arts program was focused on exchanging ideas and a lot of my teachers were artists in their own right, so it was very inspiring.

Concordia was a great program for me because I had some pretty unconventional ideas and I wanted to create something that was representative of my mood, which was one of revolt. In the end, I was able to create something positive that could have helped the young girl I was at the time.”

—Ursula Leonowicz

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