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Deborah Kelly and PeerProject4Youth

October 1, 2010

This past week the Showing Up Speaking Out project has been exploring the theme of diversity with guest artists Deborah Kelly. Deborah joins us from Australia, where for the last 13 years she has pursued an art practice that “seeks to contribute to the complexities and pleasures of cultural life and public debate… to aid desires for justice and against forgetting.” (Kelly’s own words) On the first evening of Deborah’s involvement with SUSO, we invited the youth from PeerProject4Youth to join us in a brainstorming-art-making extravaganza, and Deborah inspired us with examples of politically and socially engaged art from her great repertoire.

PeerProject4Youth (PPY) is a drop-in/hang-out safe space for queer youth and their allies that meets twice weekly at the Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg. The young people from PPY joined us for two sessions with Deborah to lend their ideas and enthusiasm to our collaborative art making experiment!

One project in particular caught my attention. The world famous Hey, hetero! series presents punchy and thought provoking statements about heterosexual entitlement set against tounge-in-cheek images of “heteros” engaging in “typically hetero” scenarios, such as getting married, having a picnic, kissing in public, or living the suburban family dream, etc. The Hey, hetero! series was installed in public places such as bus shelters as part of 2001 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

Deborah’s work really inspired and excited the PPY youth joining us that evening, and before long we were engaged in a great discussion about the issues GLBTTQ youth face in Winnipeg and Canada today and how we might use art as a way to creatively address these issues.

Deborah expertly facilitated this brainstorm session, and once all of our ideas were documented we engaged a “dot-mocracy” process where everyone was given 4 sticker dots to place beside the issue they felt was most important to address.

As you can see, the youth identified the “HAM” issue as the one they wanted to tackle. HAM is the unofficial name given to a policy in effect in the RIVER EAST-TRANSCONA School Division in Winnipeg that restricts teachers form talking about so-called “sensitive” issues of Homosexuality, Abortion, and Masturbation with students in the classroom (hence the acronym HAM). Many of us in attendance were shocked to find out about this policy, and dismayed as to how such a policy could be allowed to exist in 2010. The PPY youth were all very familiar with the policy and told us that as far as they knew it was unofficial but strictly enforced none the less.

We spent the rest of the evening brainstorming ways that we could bring public attention to the HAM policy and use art as a means to challenge it.

We came up with a whole campaign for public awareness that includes stickers, posters, a mascot, informational sheets, and a website. We got to work organizing ourselves, thinking about all the different components of an effective public awareness campaign and also actually making the individual items. There’s allot of work yet to do, but we have energy and momentum. For more information about HAM and our campaign, visit our facebook page and our website.

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