Get REAL on fighting homophobia in local schools

Have you seen pink hats bobbing around the Trent campus? The hats are from Get REAL, a non-profit organization headed by students to teach against homophobic language in schools. Starting at Western University in 2011, the initiative has spread throughout Ontario and has now arrived at Trent University.

Get REAL is “students talking to students about oppression,” explained co-chair Alaine Spiwak. “We really try to target the high school age students [to reeducate].”

“Unlearning homophobic language is important,” said member Jenny Haider, referring to the negative connotation used with terms like “that’s gay”.

“I find there are a lot of LGBTQ groups on campus,” said Spiwak, noting that Get REAL is “a safer environment for allies to get involved in this movement.”

Haider remarked, “The biggest conversation we had at Clubs and Groups Day was ‘Do I have to be gay to join?’”

“I think it’s important to see groups of allies,” remarked Spiwak.

Haider stated the idea is to allow high school students to “see older people in university.” Spiwak added, “If I had heard a lot of university students talking about their struggles, it would have opened my eyes.”

So how does Get REAL implement change?

“Get REAL exists on all these different workshop presentations [around homophobia] and how to give a good presentation,” Spiwak said, continuing by explaining that beyond facilitating the workshops themselves, they also coach students in facilitation skills. They start by finding interested members on campus, then go out to high schools to impart their knowledge.

“I find Trent really accepting, but we’re not 100% there yet,” said Spiwak.

Get REAL is also looking to foster community partnerships: “We’re working with the TCSA. We’ve been in contact with the TQC [Trent Queer Collective]; OPIRG’s been in contact.” Spiwak also mentioned talking with Rainbow Youth through PARN, the local HIV/AIDS resource network.

“Right now we’re just doing general meetings. There will be ally training sometime in October. Our launch party at Shots was a big success. We had about 100 people sign up at Clubs and Groups Day.”

“I still think homophobic language is used so freely by people all the time,” remarked Haider. “How are we in university and still hearing those words? People don’t take the time to understand these groups.”

But what about the greater LGBTQ community?

Spiwak explained that they attended a workshop at Get REAL’s head office in Toronto: “We talked a lot about bisexuals, we talked a lot about transgendered [sic] individuals… It was really eye opening because I thought I understood what these terms meant and who these people were.”

“We’re not just gaining experience from workshops,” said Haider. “It’s really important to talk to someone who experiences this everyday.”

On the topic of the awareness of intersectional oppression, Spiwak replied, “we’re hoping for a holistic approach, so that won’t even be an issue.”

Spiwak and Haider see the workshops as a lesson from both sides, Haider commenting: “we can teach them [LGBTQ individuals] the perspective of an ally. And they can teach us their perspective.”

From here, both Spiwak and Haider would only like to see Get REAL grow.

“We want to spread out to all the high schools in Peterborough. Ideally, we would spread across Ontario, Canada… even internationally.”

Spiwak added that they will be selling their famous hats on campus for $15. The hats are ethically made and all proceeds go to Get REAL. For more information, you can follow the group @getrealtrent on instagram or like their facebook page.

About Simon Semchuk 51 Articles
Simon Semchuk writes primarily on the arts and queer issues. A third-year English major, he is also interested in theatre, literature, and fluffy animals.