Safe-space school poster
brings out gay polyphobia
Last month the Toronto District School Board began distributing this and four other posters to about 600 schools as part of its “safe and positive spaces” campaign, including, if you look carefully, an apparent bit of respect for polyfamilies FMF and MFM. Maybe someone thought nobody would notice? Uh-uh.
A little background. Polyfamilies have lately received somewhat more attention in Canada than in the U.S., I would guess, what with last year's polygamy test case in British Columbia and its widely publicized polyamory sidelight with affidavits from five polyamorous households. There have also been straightforward articles like this one, which appeared last month in Canada's leading national newspaper, on top of the usual blow-over from the U.S. (for instance, Showtime's Polyamory: Married and Dating series is just finishing up on The Movie Network in Canada and is available there on demand).
The safe-spaces poster caught the attention of some traditionalists and upset them no end; they fixated on those two hearts out of the two dozen.
In the conservative National Post:
Threesomes on Toronto school board posters not intended to promote polygamy, spokesman says
By Megan O'Toole
One poster depicts threesomes of stick men and stick women inside colourful hearts. Another features a young boy cross-dressing in a bright orange wig, fuchsia dress and pink boots.
The images are hardly shocking in a 21st-century world, but do they belong in the hallways of Toronto’s public schools? Some parents are asking that after the posters, created several years ago as part of the Toronto District School Board’s “Safe and Positive Spaces” campaign, landed in the public spotlight this week. Critics say the intended message of inclusion has been lost in the confusing imagery.
“I think the gut reaction of most parents is going to be, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, what are these being used for?’ ” said Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education, an Ontario-focused education policy think-tank....
The poster depicting trios of stick men and women inside multi-coloured hearts has drawn an array of differing interpretations, with some likening it to an endorsement of polygamy, and others seeing an advertisement for promiscuity.
But the TDSB — which printed about 12,000 “Safe and Positive Spaces” posters featuring five different designs — says the intent was “to support an individual’s right to express whom they love, regardless of gender.” The posters were part of a larger campaign launched three years ago to tackle gender-based violence, board spokesman Ryan Bird said.
“The reason for depicting two women and one man was meant to show that a person can be attracted to more than one gender,” Mr. Bird said, noting the board “does not support polygamy.”
...Other parents lauded the poster campaign as a potential trigger for important conversations about lifestyle variance and the need to respect all others.
“These kinds of campaigns are part of that, they’re part of shining a light on the reality that we are all different,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of parent-led advocacy group People for Education. “What the posters are promoting is tolerance… It’s a conversation kids need to have, parents need to have. All of us need to be able to wrestle with these things [and] every single kid should feel safe and accepted at school.”
Read the whole article (Sept. 26, 2012).
And many more in the news.
Open Toronto ("polyamory and open relationships in Toronto") responded to the uproar,
...Perhaps it should not be surprising that the image of three stick figures within a heart leads directly to the concept of polygamy, rather than polyamory, or even someone casually dating males and females.... The recent mainstream-media attention paid to polyamory should help to slowly shift this view, but it will be a slow process, and a significant amount of time until polygamy isn’t the only alternative lifestyle mentioned in this kind of controversy.
The most fascinating part of this story is that in general, people understand and accept that an individual may be bisexual, and yet their default assumption is that a bisexual person will repress their attraction to all but one gender. That assumption is so strong that the only possibility people can imagine beyond such repression is polygamy. The press coverage, and people’s thought processes, don’t even explore the absurdity of someone having to live in such a repressed state, and what alternatives, beyond polygamy, might be possible.
It’s a shame that the school board chose to simply say they were not endorsing polygamy, rather than using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of other alternatives, such as polyamory.
One bit of the fallout was, ironically, a tantrum of polyphobia by a gay student (college in this case) for whom the poster advocates safe space. In The Varsity of the University of Toronto:
Schools shouldn’t be promoting polyamory
By Carter West
...I am a frequent user of GRIDNR, a social application designed for homosexuals that asks each client to submit a picture and some basic information.... Every day us gays who’ve added this application to our mobile devices at U of T and around Toronto hook up with other gays....
The purpose of this diversion into GRINDR is to illustrate a development that appropriately reflects the truths of polyamory. It is a sex-based practice that fulfills the libido and satisfies the heart about as much as a mirage. I make no exceptions to this claim. If the polyamrous can demonstrate that they can stay with their people, raise many children, and show that this arrangement is capable of making useful contributions to society as a long-term effort, then showing the next generation TDSB’s “love has no gender” poster will be perfectly appropriate. Until then it is irresponsible for the School Board to promote a lifestyle that has its advocates in the classroom but none as living examples of the success of multi-party stable relationships.
To which I left a rather flamy comment that he sounds like a privileged 12-year-old who knows so much about everything that he doesn't need to read up on a new topic before spouting off about it. See the whole article (Oct. 21, 2012), and leave your own comment.
Kerfuffles like the Toronto safe-space poster are increasingly going to give us opportunities to spread polyamory awareness. Grab them. We've got a long way to go, but the wind is with us.