One of this year's family pride events in PEI featured rainbow-themed cupcake decorating at the Atlantic Superstore in Ch'town. Needless to say, this was not a hard sell for Alex and Simon, who gleefully packed as much icing and toppings as would fit onto their cupcakes before devouring them!
After last month's MASSIVE World Pride event in Toronto, Tats and I were eager to see how it's done in Charlottetown, PEI. So, we attended Monday's Flag Raising event at City Hall here.
It was admittedly a somewhat (okay, a significantly!!!) smaller event than Toronto's flag raising a the end of June, but hey, at least the Mayor showed up here in Ch'town, lol!
Also in attendance was one of the Pride PEI organizers, a young gay man who also happens to be the first "out" person running for city council on the Island.
Later this week, we plan to attend a rainbow cupcake decorating event at one of the major grocery store chains in town (Alex and Simon are looking forward to that one!), as well as a coffee house, and of course the parade itself, held Saturday at noon, and followed by a picnic in the park.
How do you stick up for your girlfriend and protect her from "predators" when she's a few thousand km away, and the predators are her students? Lol!
After a week surrounded by two million LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Toronto last month, Tats headed off to a small town in another province this month for a flight-related job, and the contrast couldn't be starker: In Ontario, we just elected our first female premier, who also happens to be a lesbian. In PEI, Canada's last province to bring about marriage equality, real live same-sex married couples are few and far between. To complicate matters further, aviation is a notoriously homophobic industry as it is (although the tides are slowly turning even in the cockpit, it would seem).
So, being a female pilot is challenging enough. Being a gay female pilot on PEI is a whole other level of interesting. Additionally being the only flight instructor on the island, surrounded by straight, male pilots, most of whom have probably never flown with a woman or an LGBTQ pilot before, is something else entirely!!!
Having flown out there for a few summers now, I can honestly say that most of the guys are great and lots of fun. And the flying community -- many of whom are eager to upgrade their ratings and have been desperately awaiting the arrival of a flight instructor -- has been super supportive of Tats' arrival on the island.
But when one of them tells her she's "cute" and has a "sexy" name, I want to POUNCE on him and yell, "dude, that's MY girlfriend -- BACK OFF!"
Having had the luxury of being "out" now for almost three years, I sometimes forget that there are places -- even in Canada -- where some people don't understand the concept of homosexuality and same sex couples. Could it be that this guy really doesn't know that his flight instructor "flies for the other airline", so to speak???!!! ;-P
Then again, as Tats herself pointed out when we were discussing the issue, does it really matter? I mean, seriously, who tries to pick up their flight instructor (oops, oh, wait..., hehe... yea, but at least I waited a few lessons. And brought her expensive cheese. And wrote her beautiful, endearing emails. And sent her links to obscure Romanian gypsy wedding songs!!!)
Anyway, Tats -- ever the professional -- wasn't sure how to handle the situation, and just threw her hands up in exasperation as she shared the tale with me. So, in the absence of a good, old-fashioned, in-person street scrap, where I stick up for my girl and beat the other guy up, let me send a virtual message in no uncertain terms:
Yesterday's spectacle was not only a spectacle, it was an affirmation. It was a safe space space for all people to come together to celebrate sexual and gender diversity, shine the spotlight on countries still living in the dark ages when it comes to basic human rights, and yes, flash a little skin!!!!
Rainbow flags were ubiquitous, as were rainbow-themed costumes, which ranged from cute to outlandish and garish to, well, not my taste!
Our Sunday began with brunch together with a retired colleague, who also happens to be the parent of a former student of mine. Two of her three children are gay, and about a third of those in attendance at the brunch were, too. The barely-majority remnants were allies, and would imminently be outnumbered as we headed over to the Yonge street and poured onto the parade route along with thousands of other spectators.
From babies to the "young at heart", the spectators vied for a spot from which to watch the proceedings... Alex and Simon lucked out and perched atop a garbage and recycling bin (it turned out to be a coveted spot that was immediately taken by replacement watchers the second the boys hopped off an hour and a half later when they headed off for a swim back at the apartment with our babysitter, whom we had enlisted for the afternoon!!)
After the Dykes on Bikes and the Grand Marshall (who also happens to be my pastor), flags from around the world led the parade, signifying the intentionally international flavour of this year's event.
In addition to lining the streets, many onlookers sat on the roofs and hung out the windows of nearby buildings...
Despite some recent, disturbing conversations I have had with a handful of fairly ignorant individuals, it was hard not to to feel optimistic when surrounded by so many happy, gay people! The tidal wave of tolerance, acceptance and commitment to understanding the issues (rather than merely judging from a position of power and privilege) and furthering human rights around the world washes away the drips and drabs of the uneducated minority.
Spending a sunny day with friends, family and friendly strangers made me realise once again how very lucky I am to be living in a progressive country like Canada: Just when I'm starting to finally wrap my head around Stonewall and the historical and political significance of the Dyke March, I'm challenged to consider incredible hardships faced by people who live in places like Nigeria, where homosexuality is punishable by death, or Russia, where same sex families live in constant fear of their children being removed from the family. What seems a frivolous spectacle , an extravagant luxury in Toronto is a fight for one's very being in many places around the world.
Increasingly, I have come to believe that there is only ONE fight for social justice: LGBTI awareness, feminism, the Civil Rights movement, the fight to end poverty and child labour... all share tenets of the same battle.
In addition to "regular" Pride, Toronto is this year playing host to World Pride, an international event taking place every four years in a different city around the world. (This is the first time WP has been in North America.)
With Pride celebrations becoming an increasingly global trend, the LGBTTQQIA movement has taken on more of a focus on human rights (and in particular, trans rights) in recent years. Toronto's World Pride included a 3-day Human Rights Conference hosted at the University of Toronto.
Since our apartment in Mimico had been subletted for our year in Argentina, we decided to rent a place downtown right in the middle of the action for a few weeks; an aviation friend of ours from PEI joined us for a few days at the beginning, and in addition to some concerts and a ball game he already had on his agenda, we managed to drag him along to several Pride-related events...
The Flag Raising and Opening Ceremonies were held at City Hall last Friday evening. How amazing it was to be back in Toronto at a time when there is hope for a new Mayor (while Ford is in rehab, several strong candidates have come forward to run and replace him in office), and when an intelligent, talented, articulate woman (who also happens to be GAY!!!) has just been voted into provincial leadership!
Queer Girl Picnic at Christie Pits
On Sunday of Pride's opening weekend, Autostraddle organized a picnic, and we decided to join in the fun. Assuming allies would be welcome, we brought Brian along with some Alfajors and German Kartoffelsalat. Both the food and Brian were welcomed without question, but the latter turned out to be the only man there, lol!
After Tats ripped her shirt playing frisbee (first with a dachsund, and then with some lesbians), she continued her sporty trend, and bruised several fingers playing her first game ever of touch football!
One of my favourite places to visit in summer is the Toronto Islands. And what better way to celebrate Pride than with a visit to Hanlan's Point? Although we did not visit the "clothing optional" beach there, we did have a little picnic and do some geocaching before heading over to Centreville so the boys could spend time on their favourite rides, and then -- the few of us left by then, I mean -- on to Ward's where we had dinner at the Rectory Cafe before being caught in the rain and boarding a ferry back to the city.
I think my favourite photo below is the one of Brian holding down the fort while the boys are at Centreville, Adele and Rick are off getting a coffee, Vinx has already left to go see his mother, and Tats and I are just coming back from geocaching... all alone with the Pride flag sticking out of the picnic table, he looks like a sweet, lonely, elderly gay man, picnic all set up, waiting for some other nice gentleman to join him!!! :D What a good sport he's been!
Living downtown for the week meant we could easily walk or bike pretty much anywhere... we did lots of both, even through the ceaseless summer Toronto construction.
Once Brian headed back to PEI, the kids spent a few days with us. One memorable ride took us to a nearby gelato shop ("Lick It Gelato" on Queens Quay) -- yum! We also visited a large library with an amazing children's section...
Human Rights Around the World
Although I was doing some supply teaching during the day, Tats and I were able to attend one of the panel discussions, free of charge and open to the public, that formed part of the Human Rights conference. As we approach the venue, it was so nice to see the cheery rainbow flags adorning the facade of University College, adjacent the field from Convocation Hall!
We heard two speakers, Masha Gessen (a Russian-American journalist) and Tamara Adrian (a trans advocate from Venezuela). Both speakers shared the message of importance about making public the names of individual activists whose lives were in danger, not just in their own two countries, but in countries around the world, in order to increase pressure on governments who currently uphold homophobic policies. I reflected on a comment made by one of the speakers about choosing what to say (with regards to LGBTI rights) in different contexts, and how that choice is somewhat of a luxury for those of us living and working in countries like Canada, while those in some other countries couldn't or wouldn't speak up out of fear, sometimes fear for their very lives!
Sitting in Convocation Hall, I looked around at the great variety of LGBTI folks who had come together to learn about and share with/from one another what was happening on the Human Rights front in countries around the world. I realised how lucky I am to be living in a place so culturally advanced in terms of inclusion and rights, and I was reminded of the importance of working for the rights and freedoms of our sisters and brothers around the world, while we celebrate our own liberty here in Canada!
After the panel, a good friend (an "ally") took us out for dinner and conversation.
Tats bought a handmade bowtie, and we found the PEI Pride "booth" (see the last pic below). There was even a booth for gay pilots!!!
It was so much fun not being a minority for a change... and being in a truly safe space, with so many thousands of people like me! There were smiles, hugs, laughter everywhere, and such broad inclusion... truly, it makes the hatred remarkable. I just don't get it!
Here's looking forward to brunch with friends tomorrow, and then the Parade, in all its colourful, sexy, outrageous glory!
I’ve been thinking a lot about social justice in the classroom this year.
Issues of Equity and Social Justice have always been of interest to me. Early on in my career, I participated in a workshop series that challenged my assumptions and helped me to recognize long-held assumptions, as a white, middle class woman. It was there that I was first introduced to Peggy Mcintosh's Invisible Knapsack, as well as my own invisible prejudices. Equity work turned from a fun hobby involving feel-good volunteering on the weekend into uncomfortable but crucial self examination.
As a teacher, as a Christian, as a member of the visible majority, as a woman and as a member of the LGBTQ community, the challenges have only grown over the years, and over the past 12 months, there seems to be an increasing need for me to understand oppression and inclusion on a deeper level.
The introductory matter of a new ETFO resource notes,
Theorists and practitioners alike, think about the goals and practices of global citizenship education in nuanced ways, reflecting what might be referred to as macro-orientations. Some of these orientations emphasize the importance of students developing skills and competencies to be effective participants in the global marketplace. Others emphasize more transformative goals, such as deepening students’ intercultural understandings and/or developing students’ capacities to work for equity and social justice. (from Educating for Global Understanding, pg vi)
What are the goals of global education, education for equity and social justice? Why do I feel so compelled to teach for this? Why do both my Board and my Federation promote this? And, are they going about it the "right" way?
Gloria Ladson-Billings, an author whose work seems to keep popping up in this arena, notes global education is of benefit to students in that it promotes critical consciousness. More specifically, students develop a broader social-political consciousness, and eventually they become able to critique the cultural norms, values mores and institutions that produce and maintain social inequities.
That's profound: Imagine if we could somehow compell our future generations to see what so many of us fail to?!
But in order to succeed in such an endeavor, Equity and Social Jusitice have to become more than fancy words on a page, catch-phrases on a curriculum map!
Karen Hume's model of differentiation speaks to the importance of teacher beliefs and knowledge in driving a framework for meeting the intellectual and emotional needs of each learner. If we don't challenge our own assumptions, then how can we truly know our students or engage themwith appropriate challenge in rich, meaningful and relevant tasks using powerful instructional strategies?
Gloria Ladson-Billings, in her 2008 work on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, writes, “The first problem teachers confront is believing that successful teaching for poor students of colour is primarily ‘what to do’.”
Instead, she suggests, the problem is very much connected to what we discover at the base of Hume's model of differentiation, above. It rooted in how teachers think: “About the social contexts, about the students, about the curriculum, and about instruction.” (Billings 2008)
I can do the best read-alouds in the world, but if all my books are about straight, white families who live in houses and drive cars, how is Zander who's black and takes the bus and lives with his two moms in an apartment building going to connect to what I am reading, or for that matter, what I say in other subject areas?
I thought I had it pretty well figured out. I mean, I've been at this equity game for nearly 20 years, professional speaking... so, I got all excited recently when I reviewed some social justice and equity resources on our Board's website in preparation for an interview I was getting ready to do.
Of particular interest was the Implicit Association Test (the work of Mahzarin Banaji), which was posted online. "I've got this licked", I thought, as I clicked the link to take the test.
How fooled I was!
My results in fact came back fairly typically, and the speed of my associations were not what I would have hoped for someone who considers this her life work in a very practical sense.
So there I was, stretching myself, uncomfortable again. I had spent the year developing a group of multi-lingual grade 3 students into articulate, respectful dialoguers, who could hold an incredible conversation, in English, about topics such as poverty, sexism and racism. I had been invited to be the keynote speaker at a cross-provincial summer conference about this very topic, and I had excitedly shared videos of my students in action with a roomful of passionate, enthusiastic teachers.
Yet here was I, no less prone to stereotypes and prejudices than my non-equity-focused neighbour. It was a disappointing revelation to me.
Ladson-Billings encourages us to explore the experiences that shape our thinking (and subsequently, our behaviour).
Examining my own prejudices is a difficult exercise. I am confined to snippets of child-free time during which to reflect on my classroom and personal experiences. While riding my bike home from work, I reflect on a culturally-focused reading lesson I taught, and consider that writing the actual N-word on the board during a discussion might not have been the best choice, especially for a white, middle class teacher with students of colour in her classroom. While waiting in the noisy upper gallery of the swimming pool where my Grade 3s are learning how to swim for an hour, I consider how to modify my math program to include data that is engages students in thinking about cultural norms while still teaching them how to read and create a tally chart or bar graph. While driving to work one morning, I think back to the faith-based argument I had with my group leader in a course I took some years ago, about teaching for diversity and social justice.
There is rarely enough time to follow one train of thought through to its conclusion, and I am confined to these unsatisfying snippets of insight, these unfinished reflections on how --as a white, middle-aged, Christian, university-educated, LGBTQ woman -- to best teach this stuff in a class full of mainly struggling, culturally diverse 8- and 9-year-olds.
At a conference I attended this spring, I had the great privilege of hearing fire-brand Stephen Louis -- a 70-something yr- old white guy who has seen the world’s ugliness and beauty a hundred times over -- preach the message.
After explaining to us the difference between a cactus and a caucus (in the former, he noted, the pricks are on the OUTside -- ha ha) , Lewis proceeded to convict a room full of 400 educators of the notion that education is the greatest force for good there is. He persuaded us that the school is the centerpiece of creating a new society. He shared some of the work of humanitarian Graca Machel, the repeatedly confirmed, on-the-ground research that children around the world who are in situations of vulnerability just want to go to school. He shared stories of his visits to Africa, and told of the aids orphans and grandmothers, of how in many of the families in that disease and corruption-ravaged wasteland, the oldest sibling is now head of household. He told of an intimate personal moment, during his and Graca’s visit to a small hut in subsaharan Africa, where -- with one sentence -- Graca put aside her big research and mothered a small child, a pre-teen girl with whom no one had yet spoken about the enormous and life-altering changes that were about to come over her in puberty. And he spoke grandly about the atonement needed from the world bank and monetary funds policies.
I am just a teacher. And I, along with my colleagues in the room, was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility bestowed upon me as an educator.
Nearly a year has passed since that message from Lewis, received in a roomful of educators. Here I am in Argentina now, and although my rhythm this year is a different one, life seems as busy as ever somehow. Yet I find myself reflecting once again upon this problem of how best to teach for social justice… I’m meditating for a while on Ladson-Billings’ proposal, that we need to spend less time on “what to do”, and more time considering our own schemas as teachers, and on the experiences that shape us, and that shape our students.
Many times over the past 12 months I have had the opportunity to consider my own prejudices. I am too prudent to share the specifics on a public blog, but why do I make the assumptions that I do? And more importantly, what other unchecked prejudices do I harbour? Against my colleagues, and against my students from Atlantic Canada? From Carribbean or Asian backgrounds? From the Hindu faith? From single-parent families? And the list goes on… Despite my best efforts to be aware, open and inviting, I find myself surprised -- as in the IAT -- by my own prejudices, subtle though they may be, over and over and over again.
The experiences that shape us include our many interactions with other educators, and with people from backgrounds that are different than our own. These same experiences, then, also shape them. How can we harvest the most produce from such co-experiences?
I was interested, at a weekly pilot breakfast I attend on PEI each summer, to observe a white, middle-aged man gently challenge a fellow pilot of similar background with regards to a “racist” comment the latter had made. Rather than laugh along or agree with his off-colour mindset, the former chose to speak up, because he disagreed with the direction in which the conversation was going, and had decided that he would try to open the other pilot’s mind to bigger possibilities, even at the risk of being ridiculed by his friend. (Our conversations at Sat morning breakfast generally stick to philosophically superficial, jovial and aviation-related topics. “Big Ideas” like racism, classism or homophobia simply are not addressed in this forum.) But he did speak up, in a firm but fairly non-threatening manner, and the “racist” pilot actually considered his friend’s insights, and rescinded his own initial comments, agreeing that his fellow aviator had given him cause for reflection.
What impressed me about the above scenario was the way in which the two men handled such a delicate topic. The challenger was not afraid to take it on and speak up, and the challengee did not feel attacked by his challenger (or if he did, he was big enough to let that part of his ego go), and was instead open to considering new ideas, even the idea that he may in fact have been wrong.
As I reflect on these experiences, I am reminded of a comment made by Avis Glaze, formerly of the Ontario Literacy and Numeracy secretariat, and champion of teaching and learning through Social Justice: At a leadership series I attended with her, she spoke to us about how we must become “generalists” with regards to issues of social justice. She pointed out that while each of us may have our own special area of interest when it came to promoting equity and fairness, in truth, these areas were all interconnected. The fight to abolish slavery is the fight to promote women’s rights and the fight to promote marriage equality. We cannot champion one cause without supporting the others.
Interestingly, I recently came across this quote, which seems fitting:
For social inclusion to resonate, it must provide space for a discussion of oppression and discrimination. Social inclusion has to take its rightful place not along a continuum (from exclusion to inclusion), but as emerging out of a thorough analysis of exclusion. The issue is not “how” to include the excluded but rather “why” people are excluded and “how” to eradicate those conditions and structures of exclusion.
That’s hard work! And how do we, as teachers, approach it with our youngest learners? (High school can’t be the first time students are exposed to an honest conversation about why things aren’t “fair” in the world!)
Thinking about how I advance social justice in my own classroom now compared with how I addressed this topic in my early years of teaching, I have come to realise that I am more aware of the bigger picture now.
Whereas my quest before tended to revolve around raising awareness in my students of a particular issue, say “racism” or “immigration to Canada” (from the Canadian perspective, whatever that is!), I now am beginning to ask my students more thought-provoking questions when we address social justice issues in class.
I have an increasing awareness that injustice in one area tends to not be an isolated circumstance, that when we dig deeper, we often find co-morbid conditions of equity struggles (for example a young woman of colour may find herself facing the challenge of racism while also fighting for her rights as a female. Because of both of these issues, she may additionally find herself struggling with poverty, which exacerbates pre-existing stereotypes in the minds of others around her). This realization seems at times overwhelming to me: How can I, one teacher with limited life experience, adequately address all the challenges faced by the students in my class, and prepare them to fight the equity and social justice battles of the world in which they are growing up?
Let me return to the Billings quote I shared at the outset of this blog post, the idea about how teachers think: “About the social contexts, about the students, about the curriculum, and about instruction.” Ladson-Billings encourages us to explore the experiences that shape our thinking.
Many experiences have helped to shape my thinking about social justice issues, and indeed, my thinking continues to evolve. What is my role as a perpetrator of injustice in the world, and how have I contributed (and how can I continue to contribute) to a more just society within the constraints of the factory-model public education system in which I work?
I am learning that there is more to equity work than finding and sharing a great picture book with one’s students. Sometimes, there are hard questions to ask, and conflicting ideas to explore.
My pastor, a few weeks ago, when preaching specifically on the topic of social justice, noted that Peace often comes at the cost of great sacrifice.
Sometimes we ourselves must admit that we all harbour prejudices. We must be prepared to face the reality that justice contends with injustice, and that sometimes doing the “right” thing must be considered in the context of the lives it affects within cultures we have little understanding of. In our pluralistic society, conflicting ethics abound. And, as my pastor recently wondered aloud in his Sunday morning sermon, one thing we must consider as we do this important work is this: “Is the division we provoke worth the cause?”
Of this I am certain: Equity work is complicated, messy stuff. Moreover, we must tread carefully into the murky waters of teaching and learning through Social Justice, for we are bound to upset someone, regardless of what we say or do and the manner in which we say or do it.
Challenging our assumptions, and moving beyond a “charity” model of social justice is both difficult and rewarding. I am persuaded to continue the quest!
Thanks to Tom Hilton, who shared his thesis work on LGBTQ youth on PEI at the CONTACT conference at this morning's session, for tuning me in to this video. It was developed by www.YouthforHumanRights.org, and gives an excellent overview of the concept of Human Rights, as well as a little history lesson on the same. Worth the 9 minutes of your time....
Last night I had the great privilege of visiting the past. And the past has grown into a charming and talented young man!
I was in the audience of a performance where the lead vocalist and entertainer happened to be a "kid" (He was about 11 years old at the time; he's now well into his 20s) with whom I had sung in a church-based a-capella group over a decade ago.
Brilliantly talented and clearly gay (though not out) even then, my young friend was not growing up in an LGBT-friendly environment. His own true self was accepted neither at home nor at church, and eventually, he fell away from the latter.
As I watched this flamboyant and amazingly gifted young man OWN the room last night, I reflected on how lucky I had been to be surrounded by at least a few people of faith who -- as I was facing one of the most difficult challenges of my life -- had acted as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. Instead of turning away from God, coming out has been, for me, a process that has brought me closer to my Abba than I could ever have imagined possible.
The "God-as-father" notion of the Christian church (and indeed, the patriarchal perspective of many faiths) can be especially challenging to those of us pondering our sexuality and struggling to understand how God could make us "this way". Despite my own good fortune, I'll also had my share of interactions with "crucifiers", those who refuse to consider that their long-held and rarely-questions views on Scripture might not be the only "right" interpretations, and who thereby crush the souls of fellow journeyers along the path.
So, on this Father's Day Sunday, I offer this list of GOOD NEWS websites from Alex Sanchez, man of faith, and author of the amazingly inspiring "God Box", a novel aimed at young adults, which I have recently begun to read.
For those of you unsure, know that God loves you just as He made you: YOU ARE HIS CHILD!!!
Happy Father's Day, my little gay friends!
It's interesting, the things one stumbles upon while surfing the net. With a classroom to pack, an apartment to move out of, two workshops to prep and 21 report cards to write over the next few weeks, I've been doing a lot of that (surfing, a.k.a. "procrastinating", I mean!)
Earlier today, I followed a rabbit hole that originated from a list of online parenting articles a friend from my former church sent me. The path eventually led me to Tony Campolo's new project, a blog entitled "Red Letter Christians".
I first "met" Tony in Toronto's High Park area over a decade ago, at a sermon he gave, about poverty, and our call as Christians to serve the poor. I was intrigued at his dry, authentic humour and his charismatic approach. I heard him speak again some years later at a prayer breakfast event, and was again moved by his heart for the marginalized and his apparent commitment to convicting his fellow Christians of our collective need to address the complex and varied issues of Social Justice during our sojourn on Earth.
Campolo's blog project is kind of a neat space, where so-called Christians are challenged, by an assortment of bloggers, to reflect on a variety of sometimes "difficult" themes...
What would it mean to those individuals willing to share that being gay is all that they’ve ever known, if members of the church would respond by wanting to hear more of their story rather than rushing to tell them its the wrong story to have?
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.