Is homophobia the new racism?
by Radhika Panjwani
link from the Brampton Guardian
Is it okay for a gay teacher to have photographs of his same-sex partner on his desk at school? Should a gay employee “come out” to his colleagues? and is the term “queer” derogatory?
These were some of the questions the audience asked four panelists who participated in a Regional Diversity Roundtable (RDR) discussion entitled Is Homophobia The New Racism?
The conversation took place at the North Bramalea United Church, 363 Howden Blvd. Wednesday and included four well-known members from the gay community who shared both their personal and professional experiences with homophobia.
The four experts in the panel included: Jeremy Dias, an Ottawa-based activist who founded and co-ordinated Sault Ste. Marie’s first regional LGBTQ youth group (LGBTQ is a term that includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer, or those who are questioning their sexuality); Calvera Kelly, a social studies teacher with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Tim McCaskell, a Toronto gay activist, educator and writer; Suhail Abualsameed, a Jordanian native who works with immigrant and refugee gay youth within Muslim communities.
The session was moderated by Natasha Fatah, a journalist and documentary maker.
“Racism and homophobia has affected me simultaneously and both of it came from the same place of ignorance,” said Dias who at 17, took his school board to court and won Canada’s second largest human rights settlement. “I grew up in northern Ontario and was the only person of colour in my school. People called me ‘fag’ and the “N” word and I remember going to school and getting beaten up…I realized that it sucked… The obvious solution is to educate people right? But, it’s not easy…”
He founded Jer’s Vision, an organization focused on anti-bullying and anti-discrimination programming for young people. He believes groups that deal with the two issues should work together as there are intersecting themes.
Much like Dias, Kelly, a black man, deals with the issues of racism and homophobia daily.
Just recently, while riding the public transit, a woman sat in the vacant seat next to Kelly and immediately grabbed her purse and held on to it.
“I don’t know what bothers me more, racism or homophobia? I have noticed that to say something homophobic is still accepted in our society,” he said. “It’s sad, but the teachers that I sit around with in the staff room, often promote homophobic behaviour. I think addressing homophobia should start with addressing teachers. In my school, I have tried to start a gay-straight alliance. I realize this is important because I want people to know homophobia is not an issue that affects just white people.”
The roundtable’s discussion on whether homophobia is the new racism makes an incorrect assumption that the issue of racism has been successfully solved with and that homophobia is the new issue for the society to deal with, he said.
Kelly struggles with other small and big dilemmas at his workplace. He’s forced to second-guess whether or not to place a photograph of his boyfriend on his desk or call out some of the less accepting staff.
McCaskell understands. He has worked with the TDSB for some 20 years and was responsible for developing anti-racism and anti-homophobic programs. He believes there’s no magic bullet to solve the problem of homophobia in society, but infusion of funds into the school boards will somewhat alleviate the issue.
“The current formula is not meeting anybody’s needs,” McCaskell said. “We need to have a functioning community education system. We need to restore funding to how it was before the Harris (Mike) government.”