Two Jarvis Collegiate students say they are distressed by their schoolmates’ treatment of the gay community surrounding the school.
Grade 11 students Rowan Ferraro-Hallett and Natasha Alcalde Lawton, both members of the high school’s gay-straight alliance (GSA), spoke out at a community meeting in the Gay Village last night to discuss the recent homophobic harassment incurred by Church and Wellesley residents.
“I feel so ashamed being at this meeting,” Alcalde Lawton said. “It makes me want to cry. This is my generation. These are the people that I have to live with.”
Several community members, including Phil Ogison, 62, a crossing guard at Church and Alexander streets, complained they had been victims of verbal abuse, stone throwing and so-called “slushie assaults,” in which students hurl frozen drinks. Local activist Enza Anderson organized the assembly at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in an attempt to create accountability and a program of education for the teens allegedly involved.
Kenneth Jeffers, gender-based violence co-coordinator for the Toronto District School Board, emphasized the need to educate students and said a number of ongoing and new programs are in place at Jarvis, including school assemblies featuring members of the local LGBTQ community and staff training workshops.
“We’ve done a successful half-day training with the staff specifically on sexual identity and gender identity and issues of harassment, recognizing the issues both in the classroom and out in the community,” he said.
But Ferraro-Hallett said the success of these programs and others such as “homophobia week,” has been limited and could actually increase abusive behaviour within the school.
“I remember sitting in these assemblies and not being able to hear the speakers talking about the issues that are important, because the people around me are making even more horrible homophobic and transphobic comments than they would normally,” she said.
Ferraro-Hallett said maintaining the GSA is also problematic as most students view it not as an alliance, but a “gay club” that they are too afraid join.
Despite this, both students say they do not feel targeted or intimidated in the school, and defended its newfound reputation as being especially homophobic.
“I don’t think Jarvis is the worst, most homophobic school. I know that there are other schools with far heavier police presence,” Alcalde Lawton said. “Contrary to what it appears in the community, it’s not a concentrated group of people. It’s a general low hum of ignorance.”