Another engaging dilemma is that, while students rarely ask what two men do in bed, they almost always ask what lesbians do in bed. The concern is usually phrased as "I just don't understand how they can be satisfied." Almost total bewilderment faces some who try to conceptualize sexual activity where no penis is involved. Not only does such bewilderment reveal a glaring unawareness of lesbian sexuality, it also illustrates what little knowledge and imagination there is of women's sexuality in general, and how heterosexual sexual activity is almost exclusively defined in terms of penetration by a penis.
Sadly, lack of awareness of lesbian issues is not restricted to students; it extends also to the Toronto Board. While Tony Gambini is employed full-time, there has only ever been a part-time position available for a lesbian to work with him. Working two days a week at the program, I am not able to be as visible a lesbian as Tony is a gay man. As a white women, I also do not and cannot represent visibility for lesbians of colour, or even for all white lesbians. Tony has been advocating for a full-time lesbian position for the program, but those with the power to decide do not see the necessity of having a visible and full-time lesbian staff person. The rationale is, as usual, lack of funding. But discrimination, invisibility, lesbophobia, and misinformation will not disappear until the balance is corrected somewhere. Lesbians are under-represented in the students and teachers who make use of our services, and this is in part as a result of there being no full-time lesbian on staff.
As far as I am concerned, any strategy that does not include an analysis of all the isms- sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, ageism, etc.-is inadequate. While sexism and racism are beginning to be acknowledged and addressed in schools, heterosexism and lesbo/homophobia are perceived as tolerable forms of bigotry. For sexist or racist comments, students today run the risk of being sent to the principal's office, but the same rarely occurs when the targets of the remarks are lesbians, gays or bisexuals. The indirect and direct harassment in the school system has had devastating effects on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, as evidenced in poor attendance, high drop-out rates, and suicide.
As a measure of prevention, the Human Sexuality Program recently proposed a transitional school program for at-risk youth who have dropped out or who are planning to drop out of school because of homo/lesbophobia harassment. Administered through one of Toronto's alternative schools and housed in a lesbian, gay and bisexual community organization, students will follow a lesbian and gay positive curriculum in a supportive environment. Any student who feels they have experienced homo/lesbophobia, including those who are the children of lesbian, gay, or bisexual parents, will be able to attend. The idea is not necessarily to segregate all lesbian, gay and bisexual students, but to provide those who are having difficulty in school with a safe and supportive place to focus on their studies, afterwards returning to the regular school system. The program has been approved by the Toronto Board of Education and will accept its first students in September of 1995.
Judging from the level of intolerance and lack of accurate information in Toronto schools, the Human Sexuality Program will be a necessity for some time to come. Young lesbians, gays and bisexuals need to have the support of their teachers and their school boards. And all students need to be made more aware of issues of concern to lesbians, gays and bisexuals. The key to this kind of educational work is to teach the value of diversity. Differences of gender, skin color, class, ability, age or sexual orientation should be valued for the richness they bring to our lives, not used as excuses to value some lives over others.
For more information on the Human Sexuality Program, contact Lisa Jeffs or Tony Gambini at (416) 397-3755.
Lisa Jeffs is a lesbian feminist activist living and writing in downtown Toronto. She is currently pursuing her Mistress of Education in Counseling at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and working part-time at the Toronto Board of Education. When she has a spare moment she likes to spend time with nathalie, her dog, four fish and a cat (in that order).