Arts & Entertainment
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Teacher helped found early gay-straight alliances

Jim McNabb to direct next Toto Too play

GROUNDBREAKING TEACHER. Jim McNabb was a local pioneer of gay-straight alliances in high schools and, now retired, is directing queer theatre. Credit: (Alex Eady)

Jim McNabb has an impressive resume as a teacher at Sir Wilfrid Laurier high school (the original, now closed, in the Carson Rd area) and Canterbury high school, known for its arts program and its acceptance of quirky students.

“Canterbury was much more supportive of different lifestyles than other schools and it encouraged individuals. There was a real commitment on the part of the kids,” remembers McNabb, who directs Toto Too’s upcoming production of Jigsaw Confession from Jan 30 – Feb 2.

McNabb was a founder of one of the first gay groups in area high schools.

In the early 1990s at Canterbury, a group of teachers decided that discussion groups were a necessary part of the queer high school experience, taking their inspiration from the group Gays of Ottawa.

“It was always accepted in Canterbury, and well supported by the administration,” says McNabb. “As soon as it was suggested, it began! It was never a secret society.

“The teachers were invited and sat in on discussions. We were like mentors, to legitimize it. And the kids felt comfortable with teachers there. We were dealing with issues that teens have, the whole ‘coming-out’ kind of stuff. Even now, since people still have issues with sexuality, counsellors and peers are a really important source of support for kids.”

Even at Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the 1980s, McNabb was impressed by the acceptance of queer individuals into the school community. In fact, in the 1980s, two of the “head boys” (the equivalent of co-presidents in the student government) were openly gay.

In addition to his involvement in high schools and with the queer community, McNabb has taken part in a clutch of Ottawa theatrical productions over the years. He has played roles from a French Canadian transvestite (Hosanna, Theatre 2000) to a mildly homophobic, grumpy old man (Visiting Mr Green, Ottawa Little Theatre).

With Act Out Theatre, McNabb directed The Women, and Surprise! Surprise! — which is how his talents were discovered by Ottawa’s newest gay community theatre, Toto Too.

Following their smash hit production of Sky Gilbert’s Theatrelife this past summer, Toto Too will present David Lohrey’s Jigsaw Confessions, which explores a young man’s attempts to reconcile his and his father’s sexuality. McNabb will direct it.