LGBT Symposium - TPL 2012

The symposium was essentially divided into five parts: an introduction/overview of LGBTQ issues, a speech from keynote speaker Shyam Selvadurai, speeches from Leanne Iskander and Dick Moore, a seminar on LGBTQ youth and library services and a seminar on older LGBTQ people.

The ultimate question pertaining to libraries and the LGBTQ community is, is the library as safe and positive a space as it could be?

Keynote Speaker
The keynote speaker was Shyam Selvadurai, a Canadian-Sri Lankan author who is also gay. He has written three novels (Swimming with the Monsoon Sea, Funny Boy, and Cinnamon Gardens)with a fourth one in the works. He read from his upcoming novel, as well as from some passages in his other books to explain his experience as a boy discovering his homosexuality and growing up gay in his native Sri Lanka. After his speech, the audience was able to ask him a variety of questions, and many related to the discussion of being gay in a part of a racialized or culturalized community. Through the discussion, ideas to target LGBTQ library users were brought up. Some ideas include the following:

-LGBTQ writer's group
-creating partnerships with LGBTQ groups to draw in LGBTQ users and ideas for programs
-incorporate LGBTQ themes into existing programs (show an LGBTQ film for film night, include an LGBTQ book in a blook club, etc.)
-use Facebook and Twitter to publicize LGTBQ collections and programs
-create a list of links to LGBTQ support groups
-booklists of LGBTQ reading material

Shyam notes that libraries outside of the downtown core (but still in Toronto) have a high number of immigrant groups that they need to cater to. He suggests trying to find innovative ways to provide visible acceptance to LGBTQers in immigrant communities who often don't have a voice. Specifically, he urges libraries to try outreach projects. The key to implementing library programs, however is to not exclude non-LGBTQers. This way, supportive friends and family members can become LGBTQ "allies" and help the program succeed.

Overall, the keynote speaker was very enjoyable, and his was an exceptionally good storyteller.

Leanne Iskander and Dick Moore Speeches

Leanne Iskander is a student at a Toronto Catholic high school and has been actively trying to create a gay-straight alliance at her school. Because of religious constraints, she has been unable to create a gay-straight alliance, and this issue has been given a considerable amount of attention in the media: []

Her speech talked about her desire and struggle to create an LGBTQ group at her Catholic school. She has learned from a study that 60% of LGBTQ students have experienced harassment at school, and often have a lack of support from parents and friends. The creation of an LGBTQ-safe space is integral in a high school, and although she was unable to create a gay-straight alliance, she was able to create the club "Open Arms." She feels it is important that the library help contribute to LGBTQ-safe spaces, and in the question period she brought to light the reality of high school teens growing up gay.

Dick Moore is the founder of the Senior Pride Network, and his speech focused on the issues relating to older LGBTQ (OLGBTQ) individuals. Specifically, OLGBTQers, having dealt with a lifetime of ostracization and stigmatism, have a harder time reaching out for assistance and accessing programs. To further the point, Dick reminded us that homosexuality was not removed from the criminal code until the late 1969, and it wasn't until the early 1973 that homosexuality was declassified as a mental health issue. As a result, OLGBTQers are often very secretive about their sexual orientation, and often don't identify with the gay rights movement of the 70s and on.

Dick went on further to say that OLGBTQ people are often also a part of marginalized communities (such as racialized communities, and of a low/fixed income), which leaves them at greater risk of poverty, depression and anxiety.

To ensure that the library is an inclusive space to OLGBTQ individuals, Dick highly suggested staff training to help increase awareness of structural, organizational, community and personal barriers to older gay people. He also suggested that subtle ways in offering LGBTQ materials to library visitors (such as including LGBTQ themed books on display) works well with OLGBTQers, since they tend to like to keep their sexual orientation to themselves, but they can see through these efforts that the library is a space that they are welcome in.

LGBTQ Youth and Library Services
Before getting into LGBTQ youth services, we were introduced to the LGBTQ Identity Model to help understand the various stages individuals go to in their sexual self-identity.

Stage 1: Identity Confusion
-who am I?
-realization of sexual attractions
-strong sense of being different from others

Stage 2: Identity Comparison
-heightened sense of isolation. "I am the only one feeling this way."
-a rationalization/bargaining stage

Stage 3: Identity Tolerance
-begin to reach out to others
-acceptance of self and sexual attractions
-resentment of heteronormativity

Stage 4: Identity Acceptance
-development of friendships
-continued understanding that they are "normal"

Stage 5: Identity Pride
-connection with the heterosexual community

Stage 6: Identity Synthesis
-the "us and them" wall (us=homosexuals, them=heterosexuals) begins to break down

We were also given an overview of the "coming out" process, which is typically characterized by the following:
-high stress and anxiety levels
-high likelihood of depression
-experiences of verbal and/or physical abuse by family, friends and strangers
-social stigmatization

Finally, we went over a couple of important definitions:
gender: a social construction that is not tangible
biological sex: a biological construction pertaining to a person's genitalia

Because many LGBTQ youth don't feel safe at school and often don't get parental support at home (something that Leanne Iskander pointed out, too) the library has the unique opportunity to offer LGBTQ youth a safe transition point between school and home. The library can become a place where LGBTQ youth feel they can be themselves without others judging them, and therefore it is important that the library try to be visibly welcoming to these individuals.

Other issues LGBTQ youth face is social isolation, not knowing other LGBTQ people, and not knowing how to access support or groups in order to address sexuality and gender identity issues. Solutions to these issues include finding visible role models in the community (which the library could facilitate) and accessing support groups which can help create a positive self-image. In regards to this last point, libraries can assist LGBTQ youth find support groups by offering links on their websites or other sites (like Delicious) as well as printed versions of these slips or booklists of resources that assist LGBTQers.

The last topic of discussion in this seminar were areas libraries can improve to help serve LGBTQ youth. One way is through staff training. Not assuming that not all patrons (youth or not) are heterosexual is an integral component. Also, better knowledge of LGBTQ materials would be helpful in serving those in the LGBTQ community. Libraries could also start promoting LGBTQ materials year round (as opposed to just when Pride Week takes place), and offering programs that feature LGBTQ issues.

Seminar on Older LGBTQ People
This seminar went over a lot of the same information that Dick Moore presented at the beginning of the symposium. We had a chance to ask questions to Heather Baine who is a program coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre. She regularly handles programs and events aimed at OLGBTQers.

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