We’re Coming Out. Or Not.

Today is National Coming Out Day.  And while it isn’t our nation’s National Coming Out Day specifically, people all over Facebook have been coming out as all sorts of things and also talking about what it means to be out.

At T.E.A.C.H., we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, trans*, asexual, genderqueer, pansexual, omnisexual, straight, questioning, queer, confused, demisexual, gender non-conforming, Two Spirit, butch, femme, fabulous and unidentified.  We are out and proud, proud but not out, and sometimes out but not proud.  We come out to our friends, but not to our families.  We come out to our families, but not at work.  We come out at work, but not to our friends.  We invite our partners to family gatherings and work functions, but don’t name them.  We name our partners even when we’re told not to.  We wear “homophobia sucks” buttons on our backpacks, rainbows on our jewelry, our identities on our sleeves, our most fabulous bow ties, boas and dresses.  And sometimes we don’t.

And all of this is okay.  There are a lot of different ways to be, and there are a lot of different ways to be out.  Maybe today, on National Coming Out Day, you want to share a part of who you are– whoever you are– with those around you.  Maybe you don’t.  It takes a lot of privilege to be able to name yourself in this world and to have that name both fit and feel safe.  It’s not something that we all have, and it’s not something that we all want.

A lot of people feel pressured to come out in particular ways, especially on days like today.  But today shouldn’t be about forcing anybody to sit down a family member, pull aside a classmate or change their Facebook relationship status.  Instead, let’s find opportunities to celebrate who we are– for ourselves– and to create safer spaces where we can all be who we are in whatever ways feel right and safe.

Happy National Coming Out Day.  You are fabulous!

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Following the law…

After six years and four tries, Toby’s Act was passed today.  The legislation amends the Ontario Human Rights Code to explicitly recognize both gender identity and gender expression.

Introduced by the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cheri DiNovo, Toby’s Act was co-sponsored by Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi and Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott.  Previously the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibited discrimination based on “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability” but didn’t differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity.  Recognizing the differences between sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is incredibly important in making sure that trans* folks and other gender non-conforming individuals are protected when their human rights are violated.  Ontario is the first place in North America to pass this type of legislation.  Hopefully Toby’s Act will encourage similar changes in policies and practices across Canada and beyond.  Let’s take time to celebrate everybody who worked so hard to make Toby’s Act happen!

In less exciting news, the federal government has voted to remove a section of the Human Rights Act that prohibits “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet”.  This means that police and courts could still respond to hate speech if it falls under the Criminal Code, but the human rights commission no longer could.  The government argued that this part of the Human Rights Act violates the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It also means that people have fewer tools to resist or respond to the hatred they might experience in the very big—and sometimes scary—online world.

So, that’s the good news and bad news in law this week.  In both cases, there’s still a lot to fight for.  There are some laws that don’t protect LGBTQ people and others that discriminate against them.  Often the most marginalized people in our communities are those least protected.  Let’s keep on advocating and making noise, working to keep ourselves and each other safe.

For more on Toby’s Act look here.

For more on the changes to the Human Rights Act look here.

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IDAHOT!

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, also known as IDAHOT.  IDAHOT was started in 2005 and is organized by a Paris-based committee led by French academic and activist Louis-Georges Tin.  May 17 was chosen in commemoration of May 17, 1990, the date that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization.

Visit the IDAHOT website for more info, including an interactive map showing IDAHOT events around the world and watch the IDAHOT PSA.

One thing that is unique about IDAHOT is that it addresses homophobia and transphobia on an international level.  I think sometimes when we are working to combat homophobia in our own community, city, province and country it is hard to see how that fits within an international context.  IDAHOT brings attention to issues of homophobia and transphobia globally by coordinating events around the world on May 17.  ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, has more information on their website about LGBTQ issues internationally including an interactive map about laws in different countries. 

IDAHOT’s theme this year is “Combating Homophobia In Education and Through Education”.  The theme of combating homophobia through education clearly relates to the work that T.E.A.C.H. does through our anti-homophobia education workshops in schools, community centres and other settings.  The idea of combating homophobia in education is also relevant to T.E.A.C.H.  T.E.A.C.H. regularly provides workshops for educators in which youth volunteer facilitators have the chance to educate teachers about homophobia and transphobia and to speak with them about their experiences.  The opportunity for knowledge to flow in this direction, from youth to educators, rather than the other way around, is rare and important.  I think that speaking directly with teachers and school administrators who shape education is a key part of combating homophobia in education.

This year for IDAHOT T.E.A.C.H. attended a breakfast event put on by Egale Canada and Toronto PFLAG.  There were many inspiring speakers, including Ontario Minister of Education Laurel Broten, Executive Director of Egale Canada Helen Kennedy, President of Toronto PFLAG Irene Miller, and MPP Cheri DiNovo.  Egale Canada also screened their new film Courage in The Face of Hate, a moving documentary about experiences of homophobia  faced by LGBTQ people across Canada.  Check out the preview and find more info about the film here.

J.

P.S.  Next on the agenda today for T.E.A.C.H. is a flag raising at City Hall….if you’re in or around Toronto you should come by:

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Mental Health Week

May 7-13, 2012 is Mental Health Week!

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week takes place annually in the beginning of May.  This week is recognized nationally as an opportunity to open up discussions around mental health and “to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health”.  The theme of this year’s Mental Health Week is “Mental Health for All”.  This theme is particularly relevant to T.E.A.C.H. as it highlights that mental health issues can affect everyone, including youth.  Find more information about Mental Health Week, events, facts, resources and more at http://www.mentalhealthweek.ca/

In honour of Mental Health Week T.E.A.C.H. invited speakers from the Griffin Centre’s ReachOUT program to lead a training session for our volunteers looking at issues around mental health and youth.  The ReachOUT program provides services and supports to LGBTQ youth and adults in the Greater Toronto Area.  They offer a lot of great programs, and have recently launched a counseling program for LGBTQ youth.  Check out more about the Griffin Centre and the ReachOUT program here http://www.griffin-centre.org/reachout.php

The workshop facilitated by ReachOUT was highly informative and touched upon a lot of important issues including exploring stigma and myths around mental health and how these are portrayed in the media.  I found this really interesting and enjoyed how the facilitators shared their own perspectives as well as involving the group in analyzing the issues.  The workshop also looked at some of the most common mental health issues amongst youth and provided facts and statistics about youth experiences of mental health.  One thing we learned in this portion was that LGBTQ people encounter mental health challenges at a higher rate than heterosexual people due to the multitude of stressors they may face.

In the final portion of the workshop, the facilitators utilized a brainstorming exercise to generate a list of potential coping methods.  These coping methods ranged from exercise, to enjoying certain foods, to using professional counseling, to meditation and more.  I found this exercise effective because it not only provided new and useful ideas for coping, but also served to normalize experiences of mental health issues.  It reinforced the idea that we all have different experiences with mental health at different points in our lives because mental health is fluid.  This is in line with the view that mental health affects everyone and fits with this week’s theme of “Mental Health for All”.

I think having this workshop and recognizing Mental Health Week is really important.  Because of the stigma associated with mental health it is not often discussed openly.  Often there is a lot of shame involved in speaking about these topics, as they are seen as negative, or as a personal weakness.  As someone who has dealt with mental health challenges I find it really empowering to talk openly and share ideas and experiences, and it feels reassuring to know that I am not the only person dealing with these issues.

J.

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The ex-gay movement

Last month psychiatrist Robert Spitzer publicly retracted his 2001 study on the success of ex-gay therapy.  The controversial study claimed that “highly motivated gay and lesbian people could change their sexual orientation”.  In his retraction Spitzer admitted that early critiques of the study were largely correct, most notably that “there was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation”.  In addition, Spitzer has publicly apologized to the gay community and to “any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy”.  Previous to the 2001 study Spitzer had been a leader in the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973.  Read more about Spitzer’s retraction here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/robert-spitzer-ex-gay-psychiatrist-apology_n_1453570.html

Spitzer’s retraction was initially published in an article by Gabriel Arana in The American Prospect.  In his article Arana describes his own involvement with reparative therapy and his journey as a young gay man.  The article outlines some of the key moments in the history of the ex-gay movement in America and explains how Spitzer’s study was used to bolster their claims.  This article is highly effective as it utilizes both in-depth critical analysis and personal story telling.  I definitely recommend checking it out: http://prospect.org/article/my-so-called-ex-gay-life

Many people are speaking up about and against the ex-gay movement in many different ways.  Last month the popular American radio show This American Life featured John Smid, former director of Love In Action, an ex-gay ministry in Memphis, Tennessee.  Since stepping down as director Smid has come out as gay and has publicly stated that he has never seen anyone successfully change their sexual orientation.  The episode also featured gay activist Morgan Jon Fox who led a protest against Love In Action and made a documentary called This is What Love In Action Looks Like.  Listen to the episode here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/462/own-worst-enemy?act=3    

More info on This is What Love In Action Looks Like: http://www.livefrommemphis.com/loveinactionmovie

The 1999 film But I’m A Cheerleader approaches the subject of the ex-gay movement with satire.  The 2008 Canadian documentary The Cure for Love looks specifically at the ex-gay movement in Canada.  Recently I had the opportunity to see a short theatre piece about the ex-gay movement as part of Tarragon Theatre’s Paprika Festival.   Always Wear a Rubber by Evan Vipond tells the story of four young people at an ex-gay camp. 

More info on The Cure for Love:  http://www.xtra.ca/public/viewstory.aspx?AFF_TYPE=1&STORY_ID=4595&PUB_TEMPLATE_ID=1 

More info on Always Wear A Rubber: http://www.fabmagazine.com/fab-blog/spicy-rubbers

Despite this the ex-gay movement continues to have a presence across Canada and the United States.  Arana suggests that the movement is in decline.  What do you think?  Do you think Spitzer’s retraction and apology will have an effect?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

J.

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Tell us what you think….and you could WIN!!!

Here’s a chance to have your say…and be entered in a draw for a $100 VISA giftcard…..

T.E.A.C.H. is a program of Planned Parenthood Toronto.  Planned Parenthood Toronto is currently doing a satisfaction survey of the youth we serve to find out how we are doing, and how we can make our services better.  If you have accessed any of our services, including participating in T.E.A.C.H. workshops or volunteering for T.E.A.C.H., please follow the link below and let us know what you think!

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PPTclientsurvey2012

In addition to providing important feedback you will be eligible for a draw for a $100 VISA giftcard!!!!!!  The survey is totally anonymous.  After you fill out the survey you will have the option to enter your name in our draw, however this information will not be associated with your survey answers.

Thank you!  T.E.A.C.H. and Planned Parenthood Toronto value your feedback!

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National Volunteer Week

April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week!  National Volunteer Week celebrates and recognizes the essential contributions of volunteers across Canada.  Find more info about NVW 2012 here:  http://nationalvolunteerweek.ca/

Volunteers are a HUGE part of T.E.A.C.H. , so much so that T.E.A.C.H. wouldn’t really be T.E.A.C.H. without them!  T.E.A.C.H. works from a peer education model, meaning that our workshops are facilitated by youth roughly the same age as the youth who participate in the workshops.  Peer education has been shown to be an effective model as participants are more likely to be engaged with material when it is delivered by their peers.

In order to utilize the peer education model T.E.A.C.H. relies on youth volunteer facilitators.  These volunteers go through a training program and continue to develop their skills through ongoing training.  T.E.A.C.H. volunteers show a true commitment to doing anti-oppression work and generously give lots of time, energy and passion to T.E.A.C.H.

In addition to giving their time and energy our volunteers also provide honesty and bravery.  Doing anti-homophobia education can be challenging.  One element of our workshops involves volunteers sharing their personal stories.  This is a really important aspect of our workshops and participant feedback has repeatedly shown that this is the part participants connect with the most.  T.E.A.C.H. volunteers show a great deal of bravery in their willingness to share their personal experiences and ideas.

During my time here at T.E.A.C.H. I have witnessed firsthand the invaluable contributions of our volunteers.  From waking up super early on their days off, to travelling back and forth across this big city, to providing incredible insight and wisdom, there are so many ways that volunteers contribute to T.E.A.C.H.

So a BIG THANK YOU to all our wonderful, fantastic, committed and amazing T.E.A.C.H. volunteers.  You rock!!!

J.

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