Out and Proud

Love, Open Letters, Wedding

Saw a lovely post from a teacher who speaks about coming out, after marrying her wife.

He roost reminded me why I came out and keep coming out each year, each semester, in each new class. Being out in my classroom is one of the most valuable lessons and teachable moments I have to offer. It shows closeted kids or those with queer family that it’s possible to live a beautiful, rich and happy life; to be a professional; to be respected and successful as a queer person.

What else motivates me to be out in my classroom? It provides visibility and hope to kids and a learning opportunity about the diversity within our community. So many important steps towards inclusion and acceptance begin with the risk of being seen. For many it is about knowing someone and having that relationship spark the curiosity to question what we have learned or previously taken as truth. It’s hard to bear hatred or intolerance when you have a face to put to the name, whatever the marginalized group or person may be. I am their teacher. Someone they know and care about. Someone who has modelled caring and for respect for all the things that make them who they are. I actively teach anti-oppression and critical thinking about diversity, myth-busting the rhetoric that too frequently is used to promote intolerance.

If it’s safe to do so… come on out. Our kids need to see you there.

Summer to-do: day 17 – take a stand

Open Letters

Make a step towards progress by getting involved in something you believe in. Raising awareness about the homophobic laws in Jamaica and asking for a review of these antiquated laws is a cause I can get behind (especially since it’s my wife’s home country and I haven’t been there yet). 

British laws from the colonial past target gay men, specifically with buggery laws that criminalize gay-ness or gay ‘acts’ (though I doubt any straight people are being arrested for their participation in anal play); these laws can be widely interpreted to catch any act that alludes to a person being non-heterosexual as ‘obscenity’ or indecency. So, tucking your partner’s hair behind their ear, putting on his or her sunscreen, or living together are cause enough to substantiate a claim of ‘homosexuality’ and the attending violence; the result is that LGBTQ people who are victims of violence are seen as criminals and face discrimination from the officers they report to, and even reporting can put them at increased risk because acknowledging that they have been victimized makes them more vulnerable.   
    
   
   
Jamaica has one hell of a track record. When a recent murder, of two known gay men, occurred – the news paper quoted neighbours sneeringly referring to the homicide as a “fish fry.”  People have been stabbed. Raped. Set on fire. Run over multiple times. And police have treated the  victims as the criminals. 

It’s shameful that violence of any kind is supported, especially when the targets are a marginalized group with no legal recourse. Before meaningful change can happen, legislation has to change… To protect victims of violence from behind labelled as criminals. 

Day 159

Open Letters, style
Day 159

Spending three days at a working and learning conference, focused on Social Justice, is a great way to feel like you can counteract some of the terrible things we are seeing so much of in the news; planning for an upcoming year of inclusive, actively engaged, equity-fuelled learning and teaching is the perfect re-set for summer.   

   Checking my privilege, analyzing  the roots of power and working on my cultural proficiency: I can’t think of a better way to strengthen my impact on my students. 

Is it superficial, then, to throw in some details about my OOTD? No. My clothing is my armour, in a world where a thousand prejudgments are  made daily, I choose what image to present to the world. It makes me legible and tells my story. After all, beauty is only skin deep and the real work starts when we really engage and go below the surface. 

So I put my bravest, professional foot forward and open myself up to sharing, being vulnerable and listening.    
 

the day to end it

Open Letters


Yesterday was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia!

What is IDAHOT?  For 12 years, this day has been celebrated to “draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally… when LGBTI communities mobilize on a worldwide scale.

The Day represents an annual landmark to draw the attention of decision makers, the media, the public, opinion leaders and local authorities to the alarming situation faced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms.”

As the IDAHOT site  explains, “May 17 is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex acts are illegal, with 1600 events reported from 1280 organizations in 2014. These mobilisations unite millions of people in support of the recognition of human rights for all, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

This Is What Inspiration Looks Like:

I spent the day with over 300 young leaders and activists from Halton, at a gorgeous farm, listening to speakers and attending workshops.

Our day included a First Nations welcome and circle dance, performances by IllNaNa Dance, poet Jenna Tenn-Yuk and keynote delivered by MPP Cheri DiNovo.

Getting 300 people to form concentric circles and dance in the morning sunshine was pretty amazing.  In this symbolic shape, no one is more important than anyone else. We are all connected. Everyone is equal. Recognizing that we are on colonized land, while we do this anti-oppression work, is a key part of building awareness.

Forget Kanye. I was in the presence of true greatness today, listening to Cheri DiNovo speak. She was so amazing and I, as a lesbian, owe her more than I could have realized before hearing her keynote address. She helped to introduce and get more LGBTQ legislation passed in Canada than anyone in our history. She performed the first gay marriage in Canada. She is spearheading the equal parents bill and trans rights bills. I was particularly touched by her advocacy for lesbian parents who – at this exact moment – don’t have legal rights to their partners’ babies. Even if conceived (of) together… if my wife were in a medical emergency and had carried our baby, I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the hospital with our baby or have legal rights regarding our child. This is horrifying and we need to change it now.  This woman exemplifies activism and humility, encouraging youth to be the change – as she closed with a story of her own ironic journey:

As a street-involved, young queer person, she spent nights, at 16 years old, sleeping outside in Toronto’s Queen’s Park… under the same window that she now looks out from in her office as a Member of Provincial Parliament.She went back to school and transformed her life… and subsequently, the lives of so many queer people in Canada.
DiNovo also spoke about the incredible vulnerability of the trans community, citing Toby Dancer and Toby’s Law, which she has been instrumental in passing. This law added ‘gender identity and gender expression’ to our Human Rights Code.  Ground breaking! Side note: there is a stained-glass window of Toby in a local church – perhaps the only one of a trans person in a church … in the world!

From politics, to short stories, to poetry and dance – the day was as diverse as the room.

When students come together, smiles on their faces, to celebrate activism, learning, leadership and equality, it’s no wonder the sun was shining!

Vegan lunches in the sunshine.

With some irony, the setting was a historic village, with old ‘general stores’ and juxtaposed against the past, we worked to make the future better for future generations.

I’m excited to see what lies ahead, as we venture through these doors, mindful of the past and energized for the long road that stretches before us.

International Baccalaureate – An Open Letter to a Workshop Facilitator Who Didn’t Know What She Didn’t Know

Open Letters

I recently attended a workshop to prepare me for teaching a course called Theory of Knowledge in the IB Program. TOK “asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.” A heavy task, to be sure. I wondered, before attending the Toronto conference, would I be up to the rigors of the academic environment? Was I up to the challenge of pushing students to think at this elevated level and to get them to engage in the kind of dialogue that really gets to the heart of ‘questioning what we think we know’?

I was relieved to realize, quite quickly, that we were all in the same boat. Our workshop had twelve teachers, from Canada and abroad, who were all ready to think about ‘knowing’. I suppose that given my background in equity studies, where thinking about my own privilege, ignorance, assumptions and lenses, I was well equipped to start thinking about how I ‘know’ things and how that might change depending on my own experiences and identity.

The twelve of us were remarkably similar for a group whose mission included ‘thinking about diverse perspectives’ and exploring knowledge systems like Indigenous, Religious and Historical areas of Knowledge. We were all white, all able-bodied, employed, English-speaking adults. And as far as I could tell, everyone but me was straight. That became apparent quite quickly.

————

Sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you are hit in the face with it; at some point, you have to consider that your ignorance has an impact on others. The biggest take away from my three-day conference could just as easily been taken from my grade nine's study of To Kill A Mockingbird: you can't really know a person, until you've stood in their shoes and walked around in them.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you are hit in the face with it; at some point, you have to consider that your ignorance has an impact on others. The biggest take away from my three-day conference could just as easily have been taken from my grade nine’s study of To Kill A Mockingbird: you can’t really know a person, until you’ve stood in their shoes and walked around in them.

Welcome to my experience of Theory of Knowledge:

With a conference hosted in Canada, it would seem logical to have leaders be familiar with Canadian expectations regarding a teacher’s obligation to provide a safe and equitable classroom free from discrimination and hate speech. Differing opinions and exploring how we come to understand and establish what we ‘know’ is an important part of an IB education and certainly there are opportunities to explore these issues deeply and to look at sensitive issues that are globally relevant, but instructors need to be aware of how to deliver this material in a way that does not marginalize their class or create an oppressive learning environment; first and foremost, our students must feel safe and supported in order to engage in the rigorous academic challenges that we create in our programs, and consciously establishing respect for differences is a key part of this goal. Productive academic discourse is very valuable, but there was a definite lack of equity background and knowledge in my session and the instructor struggled to effectively create a safe space for dialogue about issues which are protected by law in Canada/Canadian schools. There were some very troubling materials and content recommended by the instructor (anti-gay marriage essays, etc), and no context or preamble was provided by her. As a lesbian who is out at work and fully supported by my school community it was extremely offensive to have to sit in a room while educated adults debated the value of a resource that proposed, from an ‘ethical’ standpoint, to eliminate me and my family from existence. The casual manner in which the material was introduced was very alarming. Facilitators of workshops should assume, as in their classes, that diverse identities are present in the room and that we are not statistics to be discussed dispassionately as though we are not present for the conversation. Certainly this is a huge issue of debate, globally, but it was not presented in a thoughtful or ethical manner. This had a very negative impact on my experience, and the instructor was extremely obtuse about her own lack of equity practices and how to create a safe(r) learning environment. On a positive note, it was a great teachable moment because it gave us lots to talk about at lunch, as many of the other teachers hadn’t considered the impact that articles of this kind can have on invisible minorities within the room, but it’s alarming to think about what a horrible effect this would have on a student if delivered in a similar manner in a school setting. IB, as I understand it, celebrates diverse perspectives and the IB Learner Profile strives to build Caring individuals. An awareness of these important points was markedly absent in the delivery of the workshop I attended.

————–

So, to you, Mme. Facilitator,

How did you picture that conversation going? What did you think a queer person in the room would feel while you debate their right to exist? Did you expect me to sit there, smiling, happily contributing to your discourse about the what a useful and well-written article this was?

I’ll leave you to ponder a Theory of Knowledge for a question I definitely know the answer to:

At what point does the human cost of an academic exercise outweigh its usefulness as a lesson? What is the value of subjecting a student to being a spectator to yet another example of oppression and dominance in discourse? I’m sure I could find a super article that eloquently outlines why rape is an effective strategical move and a brilliant tactic used in times of war to dehumanize and oppress a civilian population and wage psychological warfare on a nation you are trying to subjugate. I could probably find similarly well-written analyses of child-labour, slavery, racism, human trafficking, genital mutilation and myriad other issues…

But just because I can argue it, doesn’t mean I should. That much I know.

Letter to a Trans* Stranger:

Open Letters

I wrote this letter, reaching out into the internet, in response to a post where the comment section had gone pretty rancid. An acquaintance had posted a rather poorly framed ‘response article’ to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out coverage. See link: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/06/call-me-caitlyn-or-else-the-rise-of-authoritarian-transgender-politics/

They posted without context and without clarifying that they, in fact (I assume?) are supportive of Trans* people… without providing details about what parts of the article they agreed with or found worth sharing.
The comments descended into the personal, the angry, the threatening. It seemed like a few of the ‘Friends’ of the original poster were on their own, fighting an onslaught of entitled, very vocal dissent about a person’s right to self-identify and have that identity (and pronouns) respected. One man in particular seemed to be getting beaten down relentlessly for daring to stand up for himself and his identity. So I (cowardly?) sent him a personal note.
—————
Hey Landon,
We don’t know each other but I wanted to voice my support, more personally than on a public thread. I read XXXX’s post, the one about Caitlyn, and the feed of increasingly inflammatory comments below.
I wanted to reach out to say that the community and so many of its members DO support you. I support you. The few who don’t are part of a generation who has not learned to connect their struggles and privilege with a broader history of oppression and the rights movement. They don’t know what they don’t know. That isn’t an excuse, but a sad fact. They feel entitled to opinions that disregard the fact that the only reason they HAVE the right to that opinion is because other people, before them and around them, have struggled to insulate them and give them privileges. You would think that having experienced oppression, you’d fight tooth and nail to end it for ALL, but some people don’t extend that concept beyond their own immediate circle.

We’ve never met, but to me the T* in LGBT (QQI2, etc), is as vital to the acronym as any other letter.

I’m a lesbian, queer cisgender woman and I applaud each and every diverse individual who puts themselves out there to live life authentically. And hope for each person who isn’t there yet that the efforts of those living OUT in their lives will pave the way for the rest.

I am grateful to the queer people who fought harder than I ever had to, making it possible for me to be out, as a young person in high school and now as a teacher in a public school system. Lesbians and Gay men, and any of us who pass in our day to day life, should be endlessly grateful to those who visibly push the boundaries. Trans* people and gender queer individuals are bearing the brunt of society’s sad, but still present animosity, violence and hostility – physically and emotionally absorbing the worst of what intolerant people throw towards OUR community. I recognize that I have privilege because more visible minorities, like many trans people, now experience/are experiencing what Lesbian and Gay people went through 15 years ago.

We should be allying ourselves with you, to bring the conditions for ALL people to the same standards enjoyed by the majority. I’m just not comfortable with the idea that these are separate fights.”L-Word lesbians” and GBFs would not be living as comfortably as they are now if it were not for the targets on the backs of people living further outside the ‘norm’. I get to feel ‘more normal’ because the trans community, assexual community and other identities are bearing the burden of society’s slow-moving education, intolerance and lack of awareness. I hope that makes sense.

Long-windedly … what I’m trying to say is that I’m on your side. I cannot know what it is like to be in your shoes. But I want to hear and share and validate your experience. And to thank you for your bravery. And to apologize that I even have to ‘thank you for the bravery’ of being yourself. Because it should not be this hard. And to make it easier, you should at least be able to rely on people who should know better – to have your back.

—————————-

Some of the coverage is obviously satire, like good old Penny  http://www.gallerynews.com/current/you-cant-change-your-sex-and-thats-final-says-eminent-psychiatrist/

but subtlety can be tricky. And anger is so much more obvious. When it’s you in the cross hairs, its about more than tropes and disembodied politics. It’s life and death. Your life.

As Alix Olson says,

“Sometimes anger’s subtle, less rage than sad

leaking slow, through spigots you didn’t know you had

and sometimes it’s just, ‘Fuck you… fuck you’

You know, and to me, that’s poetry, too.”

Positive Space Project

Open Letters
Positive Space Project

Halton District School Board’s newly-launched Positive Space initiative.

It’s finally here! The work that I’ve been producing with a team at HDSB is now live as a resource for teachers and support staff: The Positive Spaces Resource Guide has been a year in the making and represents a commitment to educate and empower queer teachers and youth, to help promote proactive and culturally responsive teaching and to build positive spaces for young people to learn and grow. Inclusion in our curriculum is a first step. Having teachers in our classrooms who know how to make that happen is key.

Two steps forward. Sometimes you can have your cake. And it’s delicious.

How sweet it is.

How sweet it is.

Introduction: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1J5hhNy4jgJFD95ZFWI0SbmCOL2K_t4qMr83HuKJ0fm8/pub?embedded=true

Positive Space: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1e7eSQqlFtJCHYXQaYLOz7hu42wPDrIS80sqRbV8ZNL0/pub?embedded=true

A Queer Inclusive Classroom: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lIYZAeZbTkVSZHwlz7TP0B-bMazjUBUtF7M7MpTqo7c/pub?embedded=true

Language: A Glossary Of Terms: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HEQ2pN7XwTZDi2fHUqJLR71f7KyeCYTTfj9oHxSu4f8/pub?embedded=true

Policy and Law: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UOL-tGPOl7LkdZ81H33ZWSrtAtDxAPeILeMdeQJbhe0/pub?embedded=true

Admin: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YSsU6MXwgPawUaR1Z5kPK-HqXf5mUaHMDT3uCqz-ijE/pub?embedded=true

Resources: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VbYnXDpN1wBK_2Mr7OBVDrRwD6UVsgZVLGlJryagiLQ/pub?embedded=true

Gender: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TcXGtHd23cBYM9pe68GFIGSUtAODd1eIPqhKg53Jwzc/pub?embedded=true

Equity First

Open Letters

It makes me so proud and humble to know that the job I do each day feels good for me, personally, but especially it warms my heart to know that I’m part of a profession that is prioritizing equity and inclusion.

OSSTF image002

Award Presentation, May 2015

I was so excited to hear that I’d been nominated and to receive the Inclusive Educator Award from OSSTF. It really is a sign that the things I’m passionate about are shared values in my line of work and that the support for equity continues to grow. I am inspired by my colleagues and students who are doing amazing things to promote and celebrate diversity. I’m just one of the many, many teachers, EAs, admin and support workers, helping to make inclusion and safe schools a reality for our kids. They motivate me and propel us towards the kind of culture where the intersectionality of the 7 Equity Lenses is inherently understood and taught as part of our basic education. The times, they are a changin’ and I feel lucky to be part of a generation that reaps the benefits of this progress, and helps to secure it for our future.

Thank you, OSSTF!

The 7 Equity Lenses - Halton District School Board.

The 7 Equity Lenses – Halton District School Board.

Sex Ed and Satire: A Lesson For All

Open Letters

I often feel as though I’m not allowed to say what I really think about the politics in my own province, given my role as an educator, and especially given my ‘gay agenda.’

So, sometimes when you find a source of fabulous online satire, you let others do the talking for you. The aptly named The Beaverton website has helped to raise some awareness, with a bite. Check out their recent article,

Ontario schoolchildren: “Our parents aren’t mature enough for us to learn about sex”

TORONTO – Elementary school students across Ontario have begun to protest the province’s updated health and physical education curriculum, expressing concern that their parents aren’t “mentally developed enough” for them to learn about sex.

“The new sex ed program is way too much for mom and dad,” said Dana, age 12. “As soon as it was announced they started to whine and complain and throw fits. Daddy even locked himself in his room and started blasting Deep Purple when I tried to ask him about it. I really don’t think they are ready for me to learn about sex let alone LGBTQ issues.”

The revised syllabus, the first such change in Ontario’s curriculum in 17 years, includes discussions of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexting, concepts which many fear parents aren’t emotionally prepared for their children to be taught. This sentiment has been vocally expressed in demonstrations around Queen’s Park, where thousands of children have gathered with banners such as, “Let parents be parents!”, “Don’t damage our parents!” and “My parent, my choice.”

“Do you honestly think that a man who paints his entire body blue every time he goes to a Jay’s game has the maturity for his children to learn about masturbation?” asked a picketer, Jeremy, referring to his father. “I don’t think so.”

Ontario’s children are lobbying the government to get sex ed postponed until it is absolutely necessary. If it happens too early, they reason, their parents may be made uncomfortable.

“Honestly, I don’t like the idea of William knowing that I’m learning about penises and vaginas. He’s only 43, after all,” explained Michael, age 7. “We should wait until he can fully understand it. Ideally, after I’ve contracted an STI or accidentally gotten a girl pregnant.”

In light of these issues, the Ontario government is considering removing sex ed all together, hoping instead that schoolchildren accidentally walk in on their parents.

 Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 23:26

http://www.thebeaverton.com/national/item/1848-ontario-schoolchildren-our-parents-aren-t-mature-enough-for-us-to-learn-about-sex

The Union Wars and Overpaid Public Employees

Open Letters

This actually has nothing to do with unions. At least not the current union business. It does have to do with the ongoing (about once – in earnest- every two year bloodbath wherein a public sector, usually unionized, gets slaughtered in the media and court of public opinion for having the audacity to stand up for their rights).

Usually the hot button issue is salary. But, let’s be clear, it’s rarely about salary for us. More so ‘human rights’ (the right to negotiate the working terms of our contracts) and the inequity of being maligned in the public eye and used by the government as scapegoats to pay off, or pay down, a deficit we didn’t create.

Most of what I hear about teachers can be chalked up to ignorance; to the fact that most of us have been to the dentist a bunch of times but don’t feel qualified, after sitting in that chair, to carry out the job of a dentist, but feel totally justified in imagining that we know what it’s like to be a teacher. Some dot-jots might help:

– We get summers off. Yes, we used to be an agrarian society and farmers needed their children to be out of school to help work the fields. It isn’t a glorified vacation, or some sweet deal we negotiated.

-It isn’t a paid vacation. We are paid for the hours we spend AT work, IN the classroom. The pay is calculated and divided into lump sums to be given to us every two weeks – still ONLY based on hours worked.

-We don’t get paid for the coaching, supervisions at night, dances, trips, etc., that we take time away from our families to do so other people’s children have a well-rounded learning experience. We do it because we love it.

-Those sick days and perks that others are so jealous of? We got those in past negotiations INSTEAD of higher salaries. So, when they get stripped in current ‘negotiations’ it amounts to a paycut because they weren’t things given to us without sacrifices in other areas.

-I have three degrees and spent seven years in university to become a professional in my field. I am helping to prepare, for life and society, our country’s greatest asset – your children. I care and invest in them as my life’s work. Treating teachers like scum sends a terrible message about the value of our role in raising the next generation.

-The fight we often step into, in standing up for our rights, is one that sets the terms for the kind of rights your children will have when they enter the workforce.

-We ARE taking one for the team and doing our part, and have been for the past 6 years at least (salary freezes, no seniority or cost of living increases, while HST and cost of living has made our expenses, and yours, higher)

-Yes, there are bad, lazy teachers. And office workers. And police officers. And engineers. And assembly line workers. And… pretty much every job has some employees who don’t do a fantastic job.

-The teaching market is SUPER saturated. Qualified, eager teachers and waiting years to get their foot in the door. If we didn’t love our profession, we would be doing something else.

-Our job isn’t easy. Neither is yours. But I wouldn’t presume to tell you what your job is like, seeing as how I don’t work there. I have one of the most rewarding jobs I can imagine. Truly. I love it, but don’t so much love having people speculate about how easy it would be to do it, or indulging the stereotypes that each profession suffers under.

-Bottom line: Please don’t begrudge those who have employment, benefits and job security the fact that they have the things all hard-working people should have. Yes, we have pensions – we pay into them and, in this society, rather than trying to claw back gains by groups of unionized workers and pettily scorning them for having (gasp) future financial security, why don’t we work harder to make sure ALL citizens have adequate care, safety, living wages, health and financial security for their futures? Wouldn’t this make our society more productive and secure?

For a really fun overview of how much teachers make, which completely explains why we are so overpaid, check out the following breakdown by Meredith Menden:

“Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do — babysit!We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and planning — that equals 6-1/2 hours).So each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE….

That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6-1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!

The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000.

$50,000/180 days = $277.77 per day / 30 students = $9.25 / 6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student — a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)

WHAT A DEAL!!!!”

Meredith Menden