“Our history and our culture is based a lot on proximity – whether in spaces where you had to hide together just to be yourselves, or meeting up in places to protest. It’s all about proximity.”
As we at Toronto Film School prepare to mark our second consecutive Pride Month in lockdown, we understand just how critical it is to create safe spaces – even virtual ones – where members of our LGBTQIA2S+ community can not only feel accepted, but celebrated for who they are and the many contributions they make.
That’s why we’re excited to announce a number of different initiatives, activities and resources we’ll be rolling out in celebration of Pride 2021, including thrice-weekly LGBTQIA2S+ Virtual Safe Spaces drop-ins throughout the month of June and the launch of an LGBTQIA2S+ Ally Tool Kit.
“The pandemic has been a really challenging time and very isolating for a lot of queer folk…so having these spaces where people can connect, where we can give them that sense proximity, is very important,” explained Zac Schraeder, TFS’s Film Production Program Advisor.
For Doug Sroka, who moved to Toronto from Saskatchewan to study in the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program, it’s important for Toronto Film School to have LGBTQIA+ inclusive environments – even if virtual – so that he and other members of the queer community “feel free to express themselves and be who they are without harassment.”
“I think it’s important for members of the queer community to not only feel accepted and embraced in society, but I think it’s important for the queer community to be celebrated for everything that we’ve overcome and continue to overcome,” he said.
To those ends, the LGBTQI2SA+ Safe Spaces initiative – which was inspired by conversations Schraeder’s had with queer students during some of his recent online meet-ups – will run virtually here from June 2 to June 30 on the following days and times:
“The students I’ve talked to talked about having a need for a space where they can go where they don’t have to justify their identity or their experience or anything like that. Where it’s just validation and supportive listening,” Schraeder said.
“A lot of queer people need that, because oftentimes their identities are questioned, or not respected. It can be as basic as pronouns not being used properly, or the dignity of using the correct washroom, or experiencing discrimination with employment or housing,” he added.
“Having a space where you can just talk about these things and be supported without having to justify why is important. It helps empower people to deal with the problems we see. It’s a piece of the solution we need.”
Another important piece of that solution is building a community of LGBTQIA2S+ allies who are not only supportive, but knowledgeable – and that, Schraeder said, is where Toronto Film School’s newly launched Ally Tool Kit comes into play.
The 16-page document not only lays out Toronto Film School and Yorkville University’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but also provides a glossary of LGBTQIA2S+ terminology, guidelines and guidance for allies wishing to participate in the Safe Spaces and a list of community supports and resources.
“It’s important for allies to be knowledgeable, especially when you have a community that’s so diverse,” Schraeder explained, noting that the tool kit also addresses the importance of allies being able to embrace their discomfort and learn from their mistakes.
“We’re learning now that gender can be pretty much anything – it’s not binary, it’s a spectrum, and so that means language is always changing and it’s important to know that if you’re going to be a good ally.”