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Trent University Professor Awarded Prestigious $55,000 Bora Laskin Fellowship


Professor Miriam Smith to Study Impact of Charter of Rights on Lesbian and Gay Activism and Post-Charter Political Landscape

Thursday, June 29, 2006, Peterborough

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) announced today that Trent University political studies professor Miriam Smith has been awarded the 2006 Bora Laskin Fellowship to study the impact of Charter rights on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) politics.

"This is a prestigious award and Professor Smith's success is a spectacular achievement," says James Parker, Associate Vice-President for Research at Trent University. "It speaks highly of her prior research accomplishments and the quality of the research she proposes to carry-out."

Granted annually by SSHRC, the Bora Laskin National Fellowship in Human Rights Research was established in 1985 to honour the late chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The prestigious 12-month, $55,000 fellowship is awarded to a leading Canadian researcher in the field of human rights.

"No one has gained more legal recognition from section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—the section devoted to equality rights—than lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians," s Professor Smith, who, in addition to her role at Trent, is a research associate at the University of Toronto's Sexual Diversity Studies Centre. "I want to find out what difference that has made for political organizing and community development, and whether a new culture of activism has emerged as a result."

Professor Smith's previous research found that the fight for legal rights in the last two decades had made lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations less radical. Success meant inclusion in the mainstream. "People now feel more accepted," she says, "so they don't feel they have to agree on every issue."

The question Professor Smith now wants to answer is whether the high-profile struggle for same-sex marriage and similar rights has undermined a thriving grassroots political culture.

With the SSHRC funding, Professor Smith will conduct research in Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto. In each city, she will interview activists in three kinds of LGBT groups—youth, ethno-cultural and professional—that represent a range of political orientations.

"It's important to know what's really going on here in Canada," says Professor Smith, whose multi-disciplinary approach combines political science with law, sociology and urban geography. "We tend to assume social patterns here are pretty much the same as in the U.S. and elsewhere—but that's just not the case."

And though many would see her area of study as being radical, Professor Smith points out that she is, in fact, asking traditional political science questions: what impact does law have on society? What effect do political institutions have on social movements?
To answer those questions, she says, "we need to hear people's real stories, not just high theory."

"The Bora Laskin Fellowship demonstrates the value SSHRC places on human rights research," said SSHRC Interim President Stan Shapson. "It's vitally important that we support that research and recognize the best people in the field. Professor Smith's work will add a new dimension to our understanding of the Canadian reality."

SSHRC is an independent federal government agency that funds university-based research and graduate training through national peer-review competitions. SSHRC also partners with public and private sector organizations to focus research and aid the development of better policies and practices in key areas of Canada's social, cultural and economic life.


For more information, please contact:

Marilyn Burns, Director of Communications, Trent University, (705) 748-1303, mburns@trentu.ca


Susan Goodyear, Media Relations Officer, SSHRC, (613) 947-4629, susan.goodyear@sshrc.ca


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Last Updated June 30, 2006