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Toronto may get queer-centric school

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Toronto may get queer-centric school

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Secondary program would be modelled on TDSB's Africentric high school
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) wants to know whether it should create a high school that encourages queer teachers and students to be out and proud. 

A former student of the TDSB is hosting a community forum on Sept 26, entitled Have Your Say: A Queer-centric Secondary School in Toronto, to solicit community feedback. 

The idea was first proposed by Fan Wu, 20, a University of Toronto student who graduated from Douglas Collegiate in 2010, and has been gaining support from members of the board.

Wu is working with the TDSB to spearhead the project. 

“The idea was inspired by previous experiences in my life,” he says. “There is a real lack in education and a need for a school that encourages critical thinking, especially in areas of gender and sexual diversity.”

The school would include grades nine to 12, says Javier Davila, a teacher and advisor in the TDSB's office for gender-based violence prevention. Davila is helping to organize the community forum as well as gathering support among board members.


While some schools are more queer-friendly than others, Wu says, most high schools don’t actively encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students or teachers to be out and proud.

“The gay teachers at my school made a point of not coming out to their students. Some only told students after they graduated,” he says. “Teachers are afraid of parental backlash, mostly. They were sensitive to the cultures of students, especially new Canadians, some of whom come from very conservative families.”

Some teachers who knew Wu's sexuality made efforts to share books from queer writers, passed on to him like contraband, he recalls. 

“I remember my writers' craft teacher would slip me passages from queer writers, things that would inspire me that she would not give to the whole class,” he says. “I have always been attracted to queer writing and finding voices that I can relate to.”

Michael Erickson teaches at Harbord Collegiate and is one of the lead writers of the teachers' guide “Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism.” He says he would rather ensure that every TDSB school has queer-focused resources.

“I am concerned when we are pulling resources and goals into making one small space safe, as opposed to asking ourselves how that should look across the system,” he says. “What kind of student will self-select at 13, 14 or 15 years old? I think convincing teachers in schools to be integrating equity work is a better use of our resources.”

Ultimately, Davila agrees with Erickson. He would also like to see all schools incorporate queer studies, but that directive must come from the province, he says.

“I would also like to see [queer-centric education] implemented into the curriculum, but the curriculum comes from the Ministry of Education,” he says. “An alternative school has the option of looking at the curriculum through a different lens.”

Likewise, the Ontario curriculum can be interpreted differently in each school, he says.

The queer-centric school model would be similar to the TDSB Africentric high school launched last year at Winston Churchill Collegiate in Scarborough. Its goal is to create a culturally inspiring school environment for black youth, who are more likely to drop out of high school than almost any other group.

Erickson says he is also concerned a queer-centric school would inevitably become another Triangle Program, which is often called a “rescue school” for bullied queer youth.


“I worry that this is the wrong reaction to a very real problem,” he says. “We know that many queer and trans youth are kicked out of their homes, become homeless, fail entire school years, sometimes leave their schooling altogether, suffer mental health issues, stress or worse. And often the school itself is the source of the oppression.

“That’s what the Triangle Program is for. It’s a crisis intervention model.”

But Wu says he envisions a very different school than the TDSB’s Triangle Program.

“This is an entirely different concept than the Triangle Program,” he says. “It will be a school for not only those students disenfranchised at a regular school, but also for any student looking for empowerment education. All students would be welcome to learn from each others' diverse experiences.”

For those students from homophobic and religious homes who want to attend, Wu hopes administration will help bridge the gap in cases where parents are less supportive.

“I hope to have a strong administrative staff that will be able to sit down and speak to those parents on a very individual level and try to understand where the parents' fears and anxieties are coming from,” he says.

Still, he admits, in an ideal world, none of this would be necessary. Ontario would have one secular school system that doesn’t discriminate against youth from sexual minorities. Queer history, social justice activism and sexual- and gender-diversity studies would be incorporated into the provincial curriculum and integrated broadly into every course.

But right now, the education system is far from ideal, especially for queer youth. Even in Toronto’s most progressive schools, Wu says, queer youth remain “invisible.”

“The curriculum right now in high school is not designed to be reflexive,” he says. “Individual teachers may choose to make the effort to bring students non-Eurocentric and non-heteronormative materials, but the practice is not actively encouraged. And I don’t see that changing in the near future.”

The queer-centric school wouldn’t be a pathway to any specific career option; rather, it would provide another layer of critical thinking, he says. Students might choose to pursue careers in social justice, queer activism, sexuality or gender studies, or anti-oppression education in university.

“This will produce more well-informed graduates than a regular public school ever could,” Wu says.

After the community forum, an advisory committee will move the project forward. Applications for alternative schools must be submitted by the end of September.

 

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Comments

Cultural Sensitivity and Queer Positive Equity
The most concerning quote from this article is that teachers are refraining from speaking openly about gay/queer/all of those labels topics is because of newcomers to Canada being more conservative. Equity groups in schools - the same groups promoting gay equality - are also the same groups championing religious accommodation and cultural sensitivity. Eventually, something has to give way in the schools.
Who better to ghettoize gays..
than gays themselves.

What a joke. How many of us gays and lesbians attended a high school in our towns and cities because we went to school with kids our age not because we had the same sexual orientation?
It's a big bad world... segregating ourselves from the rest of the world because we get horned up differently than our other classmates is stupid.
Don't get me started...
Segregating the population
I presume that people deriding the idea of a lgbt-centric (or queer, whatever the fuck that means, centric) are thoroughly pissed off and want to see the demise of other segregated educational institutions: boys-only, girls-only, jewish schools, muslim schools.. all of it. If not, why not?

A separate school for LGBT kids (and cool straight kids, based on Wu's description at the 519 meeting) is not very different from these other segregated institutions, nor really any different from a "technical"-focus high school or performing arts high school.. it's a specialty school. What's the big deal here?
Triangle mom weighs in
As the proud mother of a Triangle graduate (and a friend of several of his classmates), I am disturbed by the ghettoization of Triangle as a 'rescue school'. Harbord Collegiate teacher, Michael Erickson's assertion that "a queer-centric school would inevitably become another Triangle Program" further marginalizes Triangle's many accomplishments and diminishes its relevance as an educational institution. Yes, Triangle offers an alternative to an unwelcoming public high school (which includes Harbord Collegiate BTW). That's part of what makes it great, not something to be looked down upon. Shame.
Noooooooo......
If we as LGBTQQI and two spirited people are to move forward, is not to segregate our youth. We need to educate the general population in all schools to be understanding and sensitive to the needs our people. This would create separatism and increase the problems for our people when placed outside the protected sanctuary of a school. We need to remember all the past activists that have fought for equality under the human right to be treated as PEOPLE.
Torn, but no
Torn on this option. A)It'd be great and a stand against bullying, but however B)doesn't do much for if we ever want to be a society that values inclusion and/or integration.
This is kind of like what we did to the 'blacks' or those who were 'mentally ill' and putting them into asylums. This is 2012 people, not the 60's.
Also, kids would have to be 'out' in order for this to be an option for them. And if asked "You go to that school?" will automatically 'out' the child/teen.
I say 'No' to this. Lets focus on the bullying in the schools we have and increase the level of confidence of these kids with the programs we have.
And who's to say that bullying won't happen in this 'Queer School'. The queer community has an issue with bullying each other as well.
The Triangle Program
The Triange Program definitely provides empowerment education. I used to go there, and have met Fan before, and I can't believe this is actually being talked about. I really don't understand. The Triangle Program is a great school, not only with the basics but the teachers there really make an effort to educate the students on queer history and politics. As a Triangle graduate, this makes me really upset.
Improve the Existing
Wouldn't it make more sense to put more time, effort and money into the existing Triangle Program? If the Triangle progam is ONLY a "crisis intervention model" then expand it to include other models and more students.
It concerns me that there was no statement from a Triangle spokesperson in this article.
what have we hatched?!?
"Queer history, social justice activism and sexual- and gender-diversity studies would be incorporated into the provincial curriculum and integrated broadly into every course." THIS quote is utterly absurd! EVERY course? Why not attack math for using plus and minus for adding and subtracting since they are binary symbols therefore incompatible with post-binary gender pluralities of Queer. Why not take all the Queer children and live in caves in a desert enacting interpretive Berdache dances of fluid gender and genitalia. Why not go up in the puff of smoke you're smoking and go dig a ditch for a living!
Every school should be a queer school
If LGBT students aren't being provided material appropriate to them, something is deeply wrong in the school system, and the solution is to fix it everywhere, not ship all the LGBT kids into a school-sized closet. If new arrivals are too bigoted to accept our public school system, that's just too bad. But their kids will be better people for it.

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