No Filter on Hate: An Open Letter to the New Neighbours

Open Letters

We just got new neighbours and sometimes the internet is the perfect place to share/vent. The very “friendly” family is also latently homophobic. The one son knows we are gay. He was surprised at first. He told us he is ‘fine with it’ but let me know that his parents aren’t. Today’s update: they think you are “rotten”. Awesome. Kid, that’s one to keep to yourself. #nofilter

19417463_10154489263702413_7760979744828416578_o.jpg

Welcome to the neighbourhood.

I want to ask them: why did you move to Canada if you were not interested in the values of acceptance and diversity; but there’s the rub, the same freedom that entices, attracts and welcomes a family from Iraq, to move into the sleepy suburbs of the GTA (that’s the Six, for you out of towners) is the same value that allows you to harbour those views. Because it is a freedom to believe what you do. But I have lived here my entire life. My family is not indigenous, and this land never belonged to us; recognizing the gift and privilege of living here, I have always been aware of how lucky I am. As a 5th generation Canadian, I am lucky beyond measure, and spend my days as a teacher, teaching English, Dance, Drama, yes… but mostly, teaching new generations of students to be aware of the value and beauty of their differences; teaching students of diverse religions to know me as a human being; to see the dignity in one another; to know that whatever oppression we have each faced, we should see that pain as something we want to remove for others – not perpetuate.

I spend my entire career, going on ten years now, looking into young faces, teaching them to be proud of who they are. I am a 35-year-old, white, able-bodied, English speaking, educated, queer woman. Most of my classes are students who are born outside of Canada, the majority learned another language before English. Never has a student of mine made me feel that I was less deserving of dignity, respect and kindness; of all those kids who I have gotten to know and love over the course of 90 days together in a semester, none who have looked at my face, heard my stories, shared theirs…made me feel that even though our experiences widely vary they couldn’t see me as a human being.

19467671_10154504015387413_6623270089677326245_o.jpg

These are just some of the notes and letters my class made me this June. I tear up just thinking about what an impact it has on me to have a job with this kind of opportunity and reward.

Why come from a place ravaged by decades of war, to a continent rife with intolerance towards immigrants, with new pointed policies that marginalize, only to find a friendly, warm set of neighbours and bring hate with you – hate in your heart for an outstretched hand?

I often think about it this way: I don’t find YOUR wife attractive. I don’t want to imagine the intimacies of 99% of the happy couples I see on a day to day basis (or unhappy, but that’s beside the point); but me not wanting to picture the physicality of your relationship, or not understanding how you get through a day with the people you choose to surround yourself with, or even finding a disconnect in the way you believe that God manifests in your life… doesn’t mean that I should deny you that right, or behave in a way that makes you feel unsafe.

If you don’t understand my ‘attraction to women’ or my ‘lifestyle’… that’s fine. You don’t need to. If I asked you imagine, how does YOUR wife find it in her heart to have sex with a man? You don’t have to understand her attraction. If you find it repellent… not a problem… you don’t have to sleep with yourself. It isn’t your right to condone or condemn the love between other people. Just your own.

It’s a reminder of the privilege some have and some don’t: can you be sure your neighbours will be kind and respectful? I often enjoy the bubble of feeling like so much progress has happened that I’m immune to the bullshit.

This is your home. But it is also my home.

And I won’t let your intolerance and ignorance make me change. I don’t want to view strangers as statistics for religious intolerance, small-mindedness, fear-mongering or stereotypes. You are one person, a few people, who unfortunately don’t have enough love in your hearts to be warm and open to the diversity of people who make up your community. I will not change for you.

 I posted about this on Social Media: because sometimes just hearing the echo of your own community helps put things in perspective. I just need to bask in this before venturing out to my car, for the daily dose of pleasant, but fake waves from the man sitting in a lawn chair in front of his garage. How does someone wave you off for your day, while imagining you burning for eternity. There is something fucked up in that.
Reactions?
* That’s awful. People should be thrilled to live next to your awesomeness.
* Come live next door to us!
* This makes me profoundly sad. Not for you guys. You guys are perfect. And glorious. But for those people and those kids who have just missed out on two of the most glorious people on the planet.
I wanna insert some positive bullshit about how you might change his life with your positive modelling but fml ain’t nobody got time for that and frankly it is not your job to change people’s archaic views. So sorry girl.
* Ugh. I’m so sick of this bullshit. Sorry you have to deal with this at your own house.
* Fuck those people. Sorry not feeling so charitable about the ignorant today .
* ^What she said^ 

* How infuriating. I’m so sorry.
* Address of your neighbours please…. and I’ll bring the carton of ❤️❤️
* You two are more than fabulous
* We don’t think you are rotten. We love your compassion and love of English and dance. We are thankful for your dedication to your students, field hockey players, and the under privileged in all walks of life. And thank you for being true to you and your spouce. Xo
* Ugh! I’m so sorry you have to deal with all that BS. Sending much love your way!
*Have a big PRIDE party … and invite them.
*Seriously… F off anyone who thinks they even have the right to think they get to choose if they are fine with it or not.
* That’s incredible that he could feel so familiar to speak such filth and judgement. Imagine what it would be to have his parents to set such a rotten example. He’s going to have a difficult time adjusting. I wonder if he would say anything if it were my husband or I.
*Do not be so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance !!!

Image may contain: text

Reality in Small Doses

Open Letters

I feel like it’s fair and helpful, when I’m entrusted with the job I have – to educate kids and prepare them for the real world – to actually be honest with them. Sometimes it’s hard, because they’re brittle. They’re babies (comparatively). And sometimes they are so grown-up that it’s scary.

I include tons of media and social justice, current events, character building, resilience and anti-shame education. Not what is ‘required’ to pass, but what I think is essential for living (and maybe even being a kind, empathetic person).

I feel like sometimes you just have to say (when you catch a subtle eye roll, and a face that says ‘here she goes again… trying to make us better humans, can we please just talk about Iambic Pentameter?)

‘Hey, I’m not going to name names here, but I notice the face you’re making. You know… the one I just described.

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but I am. It’s saying, ‘please shut up. I don’t find what you’re saying to be interesting or relevant. I didn’t sign up for this. I would rather be on Snapchat right now.’

So, on one hand, I’m really happy you’re comfortable enough to have real reactions and facial expressions, but on the other – if that’s not the impression you want to give someone who is up here, taking a risk, standing in front of an audience of 15-year-olds, being themself and caring about what you are feeling – you should tell your face.

But also, realistically, you need to get a grip on your eyes, eyebrows, lips and nostrils… because you have a life ahead of you, full of meetings, training sessions, arguments with friends, long-winded explanations and complaints from people you are dating, stories told by people you sort of know, discussions and briefings led by the people who pay your salary… and all of them will be watching you – so your face needs to be ready.

You need to show up, but also look engaged. And if you’re not engaged, what can YOU do to fix that? Only boring people get bored.

But, this is also advice from someone whose candid eyebrow reactions used to get her into lots of trouble (Sorry, Mom, former teachers, co-workers). Until I Botoxed the shit out of them. Kidding. Sort of.

However, I have been known to rebel. I coined the expression: “I can’t help it if my face finds you ridiculous.”

So, if you actually can bring yourself to listen graciously and attentively, do so. If not… work on that. Making people feel heard is a skill.

 

Lazy Teachers- an Open Letter 

Uncategorized

I received a feedback survey that asked about upcoming changes to our workload that might ‘require us to provide written feedback on exams and final performance tasks,’ in addition to the marks and rubrics we currently use. It was a yes or no question, but my real surprise was that they missed the point entirely. 
#10. If you were required to provide additional “descriptive feedback” as per the new HDSB administrative procedure, would you be able to finish marking your exams during the work day (i.e. school hours)? *

My honest answer (after I finished laughing): Question 10 asks if I would be able to complete the exam marking with the proposed changes ‘during the work day’. This question is ridiculous, as it suggests that this is currently possible. If I have 90 students, in 3 senior English classes, each having written for 1.5 to 2 hours in the exam, I am marking at school, during my lunch, during exam supervision, every night, on the weekend and right until the moment my marks and comments are due. I sleep 6 hours a night during exam time as it is. The sheer volume is impossible to complete, while providing a fair evaluation of a student’s work and enough feedback to recall each exam if they have individual questions, during the current exam turnaround – and I’m hard pressed to do so even working every waking moment from the time my exams finish to the deadline for my marks. Being required to write more feedback than I already do, which is my choice at this time, would be both unfair and impossible. Especially when we have one single PD day between this workload and brand new classes starting. This scenario also doesn’t take into account the fact that my reports SHOULD capture an up to date picture of each student’s achievement and thus, should not be pre-written. Also, it assumes that all course work has been submitted by students before classes end and exams begin (especially since no late marks can be applied to encourage students to meet original deadlines), and that the 90 performance tasks written in the final 2 weeks have not just contributed to the burnout we all feel at the end of the semester. Thank for your interest. 

Side note: exams are sometimes 12 foolscap pages long. hand written. by students in a rush and without editing. have you tried to read hundreds of pages of handwriting lately?

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

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

LGBTQ Youth Activism

Open Letters

This is a love letter to Progress. I hear things all the time that add to the collective sigh of my soul: parents protest new sex-education bill (that includes consent, safer sex practices, healthy relationships, and diverse identities), another black man has been killed by law enforcement, more and more of the things that make us question whether things are getting better. To counter that, we have moments of joy.

Our LGBTQ conference being spotlighted in the local media is so wonderful and inspiring. My students had a brilliant day, leading workshops and I shared a seminar called My Big Gay Wedding Life, where I spoke about the coming out process, getting jobs, coming out to family and co-workers, education and ultimately, finding a career I love and being ‘out’ in the classroom.

Check out the article here:

Hundreds attend Oakville LGBTQ+ conference at Iroquois Ridge High School

Hundreds of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) students from across Halton and beyond celebrated equity and diversity at the Halton District School Board’s (HDSB) annual Gay-Straight Alliance Conference.

The event was held at Iroquois Ridge High School last Thursday (April 23).

Dubbed “Loud and Proud: Can You Hear Me Now,” the conference was intended to give LGBTQ+ students an opportunity to connect, examine various issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and have fun.

“It’s not just about creating safe spaces anymore. It’s about celebrating who people are and getting out there and being visible and being active in the community,” said Robert Stenekes, Equity and Inclusion Education Student/Community Facilitator with HDSB.

“It’s local in that sense, but also we really help to broaden the students’ global perspective on what’s happening with LGBTQ+ issues around the world. We have a really good framework for what’s happening here in Canada, but that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world.”

The conference attracted more than 300 students.

Many came from schools throughout Halton’s public board, but some also came from the Halton Catholic District School Board and Appleby College.

Other participants arrived from schools as far away as Brantford.

The conference featured a poetry slam and musical performances, but also community booths where students could learn about local LGBTQ+ activities and connect with advocacy groups.

“This is super important because there are so many people in Halton, and youth in Halton especially, who identify in the LGBTQ+ range. I think sometimes it is very hard for them to find resources,” said a student from Assumption Catholic Secondary School, who is also a member of the Positive Space Network.

“I’m trying to start a (Gay-Straight Alliance) GSA at my school, so having these resources is extremely helpful and coming here and having all the different booths gives me a lot of information about how to do that.”

The 15-year-old said her group is also looking to open a LGBTQ+ Youth Centre in Halton and came to the conference to survey students to find out what they would like to see at such a centre and what it would take to make them feel safe there.

She also noted an LGBTQ+ youth drop-in event takes place every second Tuesday of the month at Mountainside Recreation Centre, 2205 Mount Forest Dr., in Burlington, from 5-8 p.m.

A connecTions social group for gender independent; trans-identified youths and their families/caregivers meets the first Wednesday of the month at the Positive Space Network offices at the Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK) at 504 Iroquois Shore Rd., unit 12A, in Oakville.

Another booth featured representatives from Egale: Canada Human Rights Trust, Canada’s national LGBTQ+ human rights organization.

The group is best known for its campaign, which helped bring same sex marriage to Canada in 2005.

Egale now works to advocate for the creation of safer spaces within the community for LGBTQ+ people.

Egale representative Jeremy Dutcher said events like the conference are important particularly when a 2009 national research survey conducted by the group found two out of three LGBTQ+ students do not feel safe in their schools on a daily basis.

“When I was going to school, there were really no supports for myself as a gay student in the school,” said Dutcher.

“To have opportunities for students to come together in a safe environment where there can be peer-to-peer learning happening is really, really important.

“They can share success stories about what is happening in their GSAs and how to support each other in that sense,” he continued. “We see the value just by the students walking by and the looks on their faces and how excited they are to be here because it really is an incredible coming together of some awesome folks working for social justice and working for change in their school community.”

The conference also featured workshops on topics such as: healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual health, how LGBTQ+ experiences overlap with disability justice, how popular and rock music has challenged traditional gender norms.

Another workshop featured a dialogue between representatives from different faiths and from different spiritual perspectives on the intersections of religion and LGBTQ+ identities.

The workshop was intended to show the youths attending they did not have to choose between their sexuality and their religion, and there is room for both, according to organizers.

The day ended with students dancing during a “Waack Revolt” and with parting words from HDSB Associate Director Stuart Miller.

Miller spoke about a bullying situation he had been made aware of during his time as a vice-principal in which some boys had urinated on another youth’s clothes.

The matter was investigated and the boys responsible were ultimately punished.

Miller said there were two heroes in that story — one was the boy who witnessed the incident and spoke up about it and the other was the victim who refused to let what happened get the better of him and who continued to be who he was and follow his dreams.

“There are two messages I want you to take from this story. The first is never ever suffer in silence. Go to somebody and if you see someone suffering in silence you help them,” said Miller.

“The second message is always help those that seem in distress or in need. You guys, by sitting here, are making a statement to this community, to Halton, to the world that you believe strongly in human rights…. There are countries in this world where gay people are still oppressed and face severe consequences just for who they are. “By being here today you are standing up to those oppressive regimes… you are making a statement,” he added.

The conference received positive reviews from students who attended.

A 17-year-old M.M. Robinson High School student called the conference inspirational and said it has given her considerable insight on what others in the LGBTQ+ community have gone through.

“I always had a supportive family. Seeing how other people are not supported in this has kind of helped me think about how I would like to make a difference,” she said.

Another student also described her experience as positive.

“I’ve had so much fun today. Hearing all the different presentations at the start of the day was awesome. There was slam poetry that was amazing,” she said.

“I just came from a workshop that was interfaith and hearing from all these different people about their views was absolutely amazing. It’s just wonderful to be here.”