school administration, teachers, bullying, parenting, arts, homophobia, resistance, volunteering
Catherine: I went to the principal and I had said to her that this was going on and that she’s a little scared to be able to come forward and to express her situation that she’s being bullied at school for having a mom that was queer. And she – and I said, she’s a little scared - like I –she’s a little bit worried about coming forward, so I’m coming forward to you on her behalf so could we have a meeting. Now, instead of having a meeting with me, she goes behind my back, takes Arden out of class and sits her down in her office as though she’s in trouble, and says, “your mom said this, this and this, so I need to know all the details now” as if she’s in trouble. And Arden of course, she’s just a little kid, she just froze and she says “I don’t think my mom knows what she’s talking about that’s not true”. So the principal calls me and says, “so she said that nothing happened, that you didn’t know what you were talking about” and so when I talked to Arden again she of course said “it’s just ‘cause I’m scared”. So I went back to the principal and I said this is the reason why. I said “please can we have a conversation first before talking to my daughter” and she said “well, I deal with things the way I deal with things, I’ve been doing this for many years”. I finally – I had expressed my concerns to a friend of mine who deals with um, equity in schools, so they’re an organization that goes and um, for free, for the TDSB goes in – as long as the principal allows it - to do, um, inclusive workshops for both the staff and the students, which is really great if it’s free, it just means the principal has to approve it because there’s time being spent on it, but I think it’s fantastic.
Catherine: Uh, she of course did not. Said to my friend, who is a trained professional who is basically paid our tax dollars in order to do this, said “I don’t need that, I’ve been doing this for years and the workshops that we have in the school are to be inclusive for everybody, I don’t feel that we need to do anything about LGBTQ training” even though this is happening. Laughs. It was so frustrating, and at that point I just gave up, I was like “I don’t have it in me, my daughter doesn’t have it in me, so I did this. I - The teacher happened to ask me, “so I heard that you’re a writer, would you be interested in doing a workshop?” and I said sure. So I go in. I do a writing – not a writing workshop but a theatre workshop so we learned some staging, we taught them some songs – blah, blah, blah. So it’s two days of workshop. At that time I also owned a home daycare, so you can imagine I was doing this at the same time as having these very small children including a baby on my back. It was intense but we got through the workshop, the kids really loved it. Then at the very, very end, uh, when we were doing our checkout, I said “so I hear that some of you have been making fun of my daughter” (General laughter) because I was like, “how else am I going to get to these kids?” If the principal doesn’t want me to speak to these kids directly, like, you know, what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna get rid of this problem other than just speaking to them directly? And they had just gotten to know me. They like my – they liked my theatre workshop, and it’s not like as if I was, you know, waving dildos all over the place and snorting coke, or whatever in front of them. I don’t know what they were imagining that lesbians do, you know, I don’t even identify as a lesbian. So I was like, they already got to know me, they liked me.
Tara: You had a relationship.
Catherine: We had a relationship and that’s exactly what I said, like, I need you to respect my family. I was very clear, all of them had red faces, Arden was a little embarrassed but I didn’t care and was like-
Tara: Did any of them apologize?
Catherine: No, they just all had red faces and I said, “I want you to understand that what you are doing is actually unconstitutional. It’s illegal, and I need it to stop”. And the teacher had a red face, they all had red faces, and I was like “thank you very much everybody, okay”, grabbed up all my daycare kids and left. It never happened again.
Tara: Ideally, what could have happened when you first called the principal? In your mind, what would be a set of events that would have been appropriate?
Catherine: Oh, yah, that’s a great question. I remember when I was working for [unclear] performing arts, a school from Fort Francis had called, the principal called us and said “listen, so there is a two-spirited kid here who is being beaten up every day and we don’t want him to, like, drop out of school. We really want to empower him and also to have everyone in the school support him being here, so I’m wondering if you can come up with a theatre piece that – that would help”. And I thought that that was fantastic. He came to us saying I don’t know what to do but can we discuss it. And I would wish that [the principal] has been like “I don’t know what to do, even though I’ve had this many decades of experience, I don’t know what to do” which I find is a very rare thing that I hear from a principal. Instead of saying “I know this and I know that, that’s why I’m paid the big bucks to sit in my office” instead saying “I don’t know, so I should do my research and find help” and this was free help that was being given, right? And to the point where my friend who works for this particular organization, this branch of the TDSB had sort of sent an email – an introductory email - saying like what the service can be done in the school, that could have been pursued, there could have been a meeting, and I would have absolutely supported everything in order to make it happen.