TBT – Toronto Pride 

Love, Open Letters

In Toronto we love our pride. We live it. I’ve been attending pride for 15 years, only missing one year because I was celebrating a friend’s marriage in Greece. 

Highlight time: 

   
 Orange is The New Black was making dreams come true. On a parade float    

    
  From start to finish the weekend was full of love and firsts…  
Shout it from the rooftop. 
    
    
    
    
   
    
    
Vag Halen performs. And sends a powerful message to people about First Nations rights, trans rights and  Black Lives Matter.    
    
Pride is about being together. With friends and loves. 
    
    
 Canada Day grilling. 

  
    
Brewery time with a glass raised to Canada’s birthday. 

  
The Drake party.     
    
    
When the P gets away. 

 

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.

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.”