For many in the large group of wide-eyed Richmond Hill teenagers, it was their first time in the Church and Wellesley Village.
Led by local activist Enza Anderson, about 40 students from Richmond Green Secondary School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) toured major sites in the gaybourhood, including Pink Triangle Press, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, George Hislop Park, Glad Day Bookshop, Pride Toronto, the 519 Church Street Community Centre, Proud FM, Bank of Montreal and Woody’s.
“I imagined the Village to look more like a Village People video — everyone singing ‘YMCA,’” Ali Taghva, 15, tells Xtra. “I was really hoping there would be people in leather, dancing down the street. I’m not disappointed. It was an amazing tour, even with bad weather. I learned so much.”
At Woody’s the students got a brief summary of the importance of gay bars to the neighbourhood and the history of the gay liberation movement. They heard about the Stonewall riots in New York, the 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto, the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and the fabulousness of drag queen culture.
GSA coordinator Tiffany Cece says the tour was phenomenal. “This is something totally new for them. This is what high school is all about: new experiences and learning.” After the tour, some students mentioned that they are planning to volunteer or take part in Toronto Pride Week this year.
There were a few raised eyebrows at hearing about Xtra’s ongoing coverage of students fighting for GSAs in Ontario Catholic schools. “It’s amazing to see that kind of support,” says Shahob Manteghi, 16.
Lisa Blinston, 17, says she is considering a career as a journalist but didn’t realize reporters can also be activists for social justice.
“I was impressed to learn that [Pink Triangle Press] is a multi-million-dollar corporation,” Taghva notes. “I didn’t think a gay activist magazine could be that successful. I’m also amazed that people are still so close-minded about these issues.”
Others, like Matthew Neitzel, 15, see a career in radio and entertainment, possibly at Proud FM. While at Proud FM, the students had the chance to record a promo, excitedly yelling the station’s call letters and cheering the name of the school.
“It’s so great to see the radio station so developed and so involved in this community,” he says. “Every community should have their own radio station. They should have their own voice.”
Anderson says she would like to make the tour a regular event. If you’re interested in arranging a tour for your school’s GSA, contact Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.