I didn't really have an opportunity to respond as the class went into an uproar with all of the students making comments at once. By the time they had calmed down enough for us to resume the presentation, they were off on another topic. Neither Steve nor I had the opportunity nor the inclination to return the discussion to what we both considered a death threat. Shortly thereafter the period was over. Since no one else in the class asked to return to the discussion either, it was clear that the idea of shooting people because they are queer did not disturb most of the students at all.
Presentations in classrooms are just one part of the Human Sexuality Program at the Toronto Board of Education. Other educational work includes: professional development for teachers at both the primary and secondary levels; workshops and presentations for individuals who provide services to youth; acting as a resource for anyone connected with the Board who is interested in lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues; and consulting with other school boards or organizations. We also provide counseling to students, teachers, and parents who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. We offer individual and couple counselling, as well as two support groups: one for students, and one for employees of the board of education. We have also run groups for children whose parents are lesbian or gay.
The impetus to begin the Human Sexuality Program came from the murder of Ken Zeller in 1985. Zeller was a Toronto school librarian who was murdered by five male high school students in High Park because he was thought to be gay. This incident crystallized the reality of homophobia, lesbophobia, and heterosexism in Toronto schools. Individuals in the school system who had previously ignored or refused to acknowledge the intensity of the fear and hatred could no longer do so. The Toronto School Board was contacted by the co-ordinator of the Toronto Counselling Centre for Lesbians and Gays who demanded action. Consultations were held with community groups and social service agencies, which led to two main rationales for a program for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals within the school system: 1) services would be more accessible to youth in the system, and 2) educational work with students and teachers was essential.
In 1988 the proposal for the program was finally passed by the Board amid threats of legal suits from some religious groups. Tony Gambini, a school social worker, was hired to head the program. As Tony was not out as a gay man at the time he was hired, the Board theoretically hired a heterosexual for the position. The biggest problem that surfaced almost immediately was getting into schools. While the program was mandated to provide service, the schools were not mandated to receive it. Tony had to rely on being invited into schools by teachers or by the administration. And of course, almost no teachers or administrators wanted to be associated with the program, for reasons varying from being afraid of identification as a "homosexual" to not believing that lesbians, gays and bisexuals attended their school. Lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers and students were, on the other hand, very supportive. Teachers put their necks on the line inviting Tony to speak in their classrooms, and the students gave their own personal testimonies and promoted the program amongst their peers.