Leanne Iskander and the “unofficial” St Joe’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) were met with another outpouring of support from Toronto’s queer community at the Pride Premiere on June 4.
The 16-year-old was named both the 2011 honoured dyke and the “unofficial” youth grand marshal. Cheering her on at the all-ages event at Crews & Tangos were several members of the St Joe’s GSA, the group she founded in March.
At the time, Iskander submitted a formal proposal to start a GSA at her school but was denied by her principal. Not willing to take no for an answer, she rallied the support of more than 30 students to fight for a GSA. Faced with bullying from other students and school administrators, the students went public, sparking a movement that continues today. Now, the GSA is reaching out to students at other Ontario schools to join them in marching in this year’s Pride parade.
A silent ban remains at all Ontario Catholic schools on student groups focused on gay, lesbian and trans issues, or even clubs with names that contain the word “gay.” The reason: “GSAs lead to activism,” according to the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.
“The Dyke March was inspired by Leanne’s story,” says Dyke March coordinator Amber Moyle. “Leanne and about 30 other students continue their fight for a GSA.”
The June 4 premiere marked the kickoff of Pride Month in Toronto, with events and parties filling nearly every day on the calendar. Pride Week runs June 24 to July 3.
The Trans Health Lobby was named the honoured dyke group at the Pride Premiere. Onstage, Susan Gapka and other members unfurled a banner and reminded everyone that the fight continues for trans rights on the provincial and federal level.
Iskander thanked the school board for denying her the GSA in the first place. Banning groups focused on gay, lesbian and trans students galvanized the group to action. “I was just a student trying to start a GSA. Now I’m an activist…. Banning groups with queer names sends a message of intolerance.”
Iskander will lead the Dyke March on July 2. Executive committee member Laura Krahn says the focus this year will be on “creating change from within,” which is in keeping with the theme of last year’s Take Back the Dyke march. New this year is a rally at 1pm at Norman Jewison Park, to be followed by the march at 2pm.
“It’s about being politically active and engaged,” Krahn says. “The community spoke in the CAP [Community Advisory Panel] report, and they said the Dyke March is an essential part of this festival.” She says it’s still unknown if there will be a Take Back the Dyke march this year, but if there is, “they have our full support.”
“Bring your signs and air your issues,” says Anna Evans, another Dyke March executive committee member. “This is a Dyke March, not a parade. Make your issues visible.”
A second event, Stonewall TO, is planned for June 26, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. It’s billed as a day to “celebrate queer liberation in all its variances.” It is being organized by Sasha Van Bon Bon and Jess Dobkin and is not affiliated with Pride Toronto.
Also announced: the Trans March is planned for July 1, beginning at Norman Jewison Park at 6:30pm. The afterparty will take place at The Barn, beginning at 10pm.
“Trans people are still not recognized in the Ontario Human Rights Code and in Canada’s Human Rights Act,” Gapka says. “This must change.”
More PT awards will be announced June 16 at the Inspire Awards gala at Casa Loma.
The deadline to submit a nomination for youth of the year and person of the year is June 6. The winners will be declared the “co-grand marshals” by PT, says festival spokesperson Peter McHugh.
“By partnering with the Inspire Awards, Pride is working with the CAP recommendations to have more community involvement and encourage people to have a voice,” McHugh says.
On May 21, Xtra reported that PT had decided not to name a grand marshal this year. But, McHugh says, the board decided to “go back to the drawing board” and rethink the decision.
Organizers of the Inspire Awards have already selected Fife House, supported housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, as the most inspiring community organization, says Antoine Elhashem. Groups and individuals can submit nominations on the Inspire Awards website.
The awards were created to honour the contributions of outstanding individuals in the queer community in the Greater Toronto Area, Elhashem says.
Xtra and the St Joe’s GSA have teamed up to nominate Iskander as youth of the year.
“We at Xtra are proud to support and celebrate our rights and freedoms of expression, change and equality, all the while promoting the need for safe spaces for our youth,” says Craig Palmer, Xtra’s community relations coordinator.
On June 10 the LGBT Youth Line will present the Community Youth Awards at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. The event is free and all-ages.