As a first generation Canadian of Somali heritage, Sara Ali was raised in both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Canada. This has given her a unique perspective on the world and had a profound influence on her chosen life path.

Ali first completed an Honours bachelor’s degree at the University of Waterloo in Social Development Studies with a specialization in Social Policy and Social Action and then went on to receive her Master’s in Political Science with a specialization in African Studies at Carleton University. It was during her time at Carleton that she became interested in exclusion, dehumanization, and eventually has led to her interest in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Criminology and Socio-legal studies at the University of Toronto, she is focusing her studies on how DEI can create positive changes in the world. Although her experience working in the sports industry is quite recent, she has always had an interest in and been surrounded by sports.    

Can you explain what your role as a consultant for EC entails? What are the goals?

I am currently working with EC on its DEI goals. In my experience, EC has been trying to understand how to incorporate DEI into the organization, and I am excited to see where the work leads. The goal, in both the short and long term, is to find ways to both improve the experiences of those currently involved in the sport but also to broaden the reach and accessibility of equestrian sport and activities in Canada.

What draws you to equestrian sport?

I have always had a love for animals and a fascination with and appreciation for the human-animal bond. Whenever I have had the chance, I have gone on trail rides and have always enjoyed them. There is something both freeing and calming about exploring the world with horses.

What does Pride month mean to you?

Pride has meant different things to me at different times in my life, and I think this is also true of Pride in general. Pride began as a way to commemorate the resistance to police brutality after the events at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969. Over the years, I think it has lost some of its political substance as it has become more mainstream.

For example, in 2016, Black Lives Matter staged a sit-in at Toronto Pride and the responses conveyed the message that issues that affect Black and Indigenous people are somehow separate from those that affect those who are LGTBQIA2S+. Given Pride’s political roots, this was unfortunate. Politics aside, Pride is such an important occasion, one I was reminded of this past weekend, during Toronto’s Pride Parade.

Pride is the antonym of shame, which is an emotion that many people who are LGBTQIA2S+ are sadly all too familiar with. Once a year, Pride offers us the opportunity to look around and experience what it feels like to see people like us celebrating their existence unapologetically, and at least for me, it gives me the courage to try to do the same. I love seeing the little bursts of emotion expressed by those who up until Pride weekend may have felt alone. However, like any celebration, it can be difficult for those who do not have a community to share it.

Recently, we have seen a surge in hostility towards the LGBTQIA2S+ community and allies, particularly around this time. For some, the unapologetic celebration of those whose existence they deem unacceptable is troublesome. I think sometimes people get stuck in trying to be right and forget that others are people too, that we all have our humanity in common.

We all have hopes, dreams, pain, fears, and a desire to feel accepted. Inclusion matters, acceptance matters, support matters and no one deserves to be rejected or fearful because of who they are. 

Do you believe the LGBTQIA2S+ community is well represented in the equestrian world?

One of the things I have really enjoyed about my work with EC is that it has given me the opportunity to learn more about equestrian sport and culture. From what I have learned, while gay men are represented in equestrian sport, there don’t seem to be many (out) lesbian or transgender professional equestrians.

This is currently an assumption which requires further investigation. However, the income differences in median income between population groups may be a factor with gay men having higher median incomes than both lesbian women and those who identify as transgender and/or non-binary.

It is important to consider financial accessibility when addressing issues of accessibility and inclusion within sports, particularly when it comes to anything beyond participation at the amateur level.  

Conclusion

Partnering with individuals and groups with lived experience and expertise such as Ali, are part of EC’s plan as it continues its path of learning and understanding towards a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable equestrian sport environment in Canada. EC looks forward to continued work with her and others in addition to greater plan of action to see real change and more diverse representation in sport.

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