By Emma Buchanan
“We created this mural to bring awareness to the struggles the LGBTQ2S+ community has faced throughout history. These events are as important as any historical event and deserve to be well known. People need to know that there is still oppression in this community and we hope this mural will inspire students to stop the discrimination.” – Glebe student creators.
In February 2018, Anneke Jansen van Doorn’s Grade 11 Gender Studies class at Glebe Collegiate Institute began Youth Ottawa’s Civic Engagement Programming. In this program, high school students choose an issue of civic importance to address in an eight-week action plan in collaboration with a trained facilitator and a community partner.
The students at Glebe reflected on what they and their peers often felt at school – that LGBTQ students are still discriminated against despite the perception of growing acceptance. They met with the school’s Rainbow Alliance Club and decided that a mural in the main stairway would encourage an inclusive and caring space for students for years to come.
Over a period of several months, the students talked with their peers and community-based LGBTQ2S+ artists Thane Robyn and RJ Jones to determine five moments in North American LGBTQ2S+ history to highlight in the mural. They wanted the mural to include all voices, especially those who have been marginalized and whose history hasn’t made the history books.
One of the most notable aspects of the process is the students’ relationship with Glebe principal Steven Massey. Although there were roadblocks, including fears that fire code would be violated for placing the mural panels in a staircase, they “never felt at any point that the project would be shut down,” one student said.
That trust in a principal is rare. The unwavering support and willingness of Massey to learn and adapt throughout the process earned him trust from his students and made him a key ally and collaborator.
Students worked with professional muralist and community-based artist Claudia Salguero for two weeks after school in May 2018 to envision the five moments and transfer these visions onto aluminum panels. The group “became a family over those two weeks,” dancing to music and eating pizza as they painted historic moments, noted one student.
The final mural moments include: a homage to Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the trans women of colour leaders of the Stonewall movement; a representation of the two-spirit Indigenous identity; a celebration of the legalization of gay marriage in Canada; the Black Lives Matter Toronto sit-in in Toronto Pride 2016; and the passing of Bill C-16 that added gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
After eight months hanging in the front office, the mural was finally hung in the school’s main staircase. Students were thrilled that an entire stairway was not only painted black to highlight the images of their creation, but was closed to the student body, which certainly created a buzz.
The reveal could not have come at a better time, as the students from the original Grade 11 Gender Studies class will be graduating next month.
On May 29, students, parents, teachers, friends and ODCSB School Board Trustee Lyra Evans (Canada’s first transgender school board trustee!) gathered on the second floor landing to celebrate the unveiling and eat rainbow cake.
A member of the Rainbow Alliance Club and one of the mural creators, Harry Loop, told the crowd, “Art can be fantastic for the head, heart and body. This mural was not just self-care, but care for others. We do the best we can to ensure the security and well-being of others in this building and out. I hope these murals help create that safe space for students, openly queer or not, to feel proud and safe in their school.”
Emma Buchanan is the Youth Engagement Coordinator at Youth Ottawa and facilitated the creation of the Glebe LGBTQ2S+ History Mural.