Students at Jarvis Collegiate say they put up with anti-gay, racist and sexist slurs on a daily basis, a problem that goes far beyond “hooligans” hurling slushies.
“Jarvis is a very homophobic school,” said 17-year-old Natasha Alcalde Lawton, who was one of two Jarvis students that spoke. “They attack on those in the GSA [gay-straight alliance]. Many don’t even know the school is in the gay village.”
Another student who was sitting in the audience said he had to transfer out of his public school in Durham to escape the constant bullying. He moved to Toronto on his own when he was 17. He said gay, lesbian and trans kids need to know that school officials, police and government policy-makers are on their side.
“[Homophobia in schools] is a province-wide epidemic,” 18-year-old Don De Marco told Xtra. “There is such a lack of resources in schools for gay kids. It’s very common to get called a faggot.”
About 100 community members, media and Jarvis Collegiate students packed the 519 Church Street Community Centre on Feb 9 for Village activist Enza Anderson’s public meeting. They were all there to discuss the recent “Teens of Terror” Glee-style slushie attacks.
At the back of the room, Toronto Police Service officers lined the wall with their arms crossed.
One by one, police and school board officials got behind the microphone to reassure worried community members that officers are on alert in the Village.
Det Matt Moyer, the Toronto police hate crime coordinator, said hate crimes are down 24 percent in Toronto since 2009. “If someone is using the term ‘gay-bashing,’ we want to talk to them. Make the call. We’ll make it our business.”
“Under-reporting is a huge problem for police,” he added. “I know it’s difficult and challenging to get victims to come forward.”
Sgt Doug Gibson said no charges have been laid in any of the slushie attacks. Moyer added that he’s sure if Chief Bill Blair had a choice there would be an officer “on every corner.”
But Mark Luciani, a volunteer at The 519, demanded to know what police and school officials are doing about the slushie attacks.
“I’ve heard you talk about the programs, but what’s being done at this school?” he shouted. “It sounds like nothing is actually happening.”
Ken Jeffers, the gender-based-violence prevention coordinator for the Toronto District School Board, said repeat offenders will not be allowed to return to school.
The answer didn’t sit well with some in the audience, who noted that expelling bully students doesn’t solve the problem. It just sends them out into the community. “It’s hard to change opinions when they leave school. The earlier you have an impact, the better,” De Marco noted.
Anderson first raised the issue as a status update on her Facebook page Jan 20, calling the Jarvis Collegiate students “Teens of Terror.”
After stories ran in the Sun and the Star, it didn’t take long for news crews to fan out across the Village, scrounging for tales of students pelting unsuspecting people with shoes and soft drinks.
Paul Winsor, a florist at Ladybug flower shop on Church St, who was one of the victims of the attacks, told Xtra the “story is getting out of control.” He called the incidents nothing more than “hooliganism.”
But on the heels of the slushie reports, 30-year-old Ryan Lester, a Pride Toronto staffer, and his brother were violently attacked at Mehran Restaurant at Church and McGill streets on Jan 22. Two men kicked Lester in the face and called him “faggot.”
Eoin McManus, 21, and Benjamin McCall, 21, both of Toronto, have each been charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief. They will appear Feb 16 at College Park Courthouse.
Police at the meeting pointed to Lester’s attack as evidence that more work needs to be done by police in all areas of the city.
After the meeting Anderson tells Xtra that the principal of Jarvis Collegiate has asked her for a meeting. There’s no date set yet, she says.
“They are ready to talk,” she says. “The goal has always been to make the school and community safe for everyone.”
Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam had already planned a Church-Wellesley Community Safety Audit on Feb 13. She encourages people to come out, share stories and join a walk around the neighbourhood.
If you want to take part in the safety audit, meet Wong-Tam at the Croissant Tree at 1pm. A discussion at the Village Rainbow will follow the walk.