________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 13 . . . . March 4, 2005


Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia: A project of Planned Parenthood of Toronto.

Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2004.
197 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-896764-87-8.

Subject Headings:
Coming out (Sexual orientation).
Homophobia in high schools-Ontario-Toronto.
Gay teenagers-Ontario-Toronto.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters and Cindy Mitterndorfer.

**** /4

The front cover is a black and white photo of a dark door opening into an area filled with light. Is it the door of a closet, and what lies beyond in that bright light? The 20 stories comprising Hear Me Out are first-person accounts told by volunteers with Toronto's Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia (T. E. A. C. H. ). T. E. A. C. H. was founded in 1993 "at a time when queer discrimination in the east end of Toronto was escalating," and it "created a peer-based framework to challenge youth about their attitudes to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender/transsexuals." How did Planned Parenthood of Toronto (PPT) come to adopt the program in 1997? Well-known for its work in sexual and reproductive health education and as a provider of clinical health services, PPT took on the challenge "because the effects of homophobia on self-esteem, body image and sexuality, and their link to violence are so clear, [and because] . . . for youth the connection to healthy sexuality is undeniable." And so, PPT brought together and trained a dedicated group of volunteers, including both those who identify themselves as LGBTT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited) youth and their straight allies. Hear Me Out tells their stories.

     Although not all of the stories in Hear Me Out are specifically about growing up and surviving high school, most of the story-tellers are young adults, close enough to adolescence to remember vividly the isolation and vulnerability that they experienced. Adolescence is an emotional minefield for anyone perceived to be "different" from his or her peers (and at times, almost everyone feels "different"), and these stories make clear that vulnerability and isolation are the sine qua non of growing up LGBTT. Few are fortunate enough to find allies in sympathetic friends, teachers, and/or family; at times, all experience a life that is "isolating, emotionally draining, frightening" and only rarely "empowering and supporting." For too many LGBTT youth, "bullying, taunting, queer-bashing, and violence" are daily torments, and for some, membership in visible minorities -- ethnic or religious, and sometimes, both - adds yet another element to the discrimination that they face.

     In reading these accounts, I was, by turns, shocked at the violence so many endured, saddened at their rejection by family and friends, and inspired by their courage in facing their oppressors, in telling their stories, and in their refusal to see themselves as victims. Winnipeg, like Toronto, is a culturally diverse city. Cindy Mitterndorfer, a fellow teacher at Kelvin High School and staff advisor to Kelvin's Gay-Straight Alliance youth group, agreed that one of the book's greatest strengths is that "the stories truly reflect a multi-cultural and diverse Canada, and [as such] the stories should reach out to many readers. Many of the stories explore the interaction of sexual identity with race, religion, and culture. Another important feature is that stories about bisexuality and gender identity are included in the book, and this is an area that society is just starting to discuss." In fact, the only group under-represented in the book are youth living in rural areas.

     Hear Me Out is a powerful collection of stories. In the Program Co-ordinator's Intro, Nadia Bello asks the question: "Who does not, consciously or unconsciously, use stories as a way to experience and interpret the worlds around us?" Like me, Cindy found that the first-person accounts captured the readers’ interest and made it difficult not to empathize with the story-tellers. And although their language may be a bit strong and direct for some readers, it's language with which youth will connect.

     Both Cindy and I agreed that Hear Me Out deserves 4 stars, and Cindy added that the book "is an excellent resource and support for LGBTT youth . . . who will definitely see their lives reflected in the stories in this collection. Many LGBTT youth will find not only support but also hope through the stories in this book. For "straight" students and adults who work with LGBTT youth, Hear Me Out will definitely offer insight into the experiences of LGBTT youth." As a teacher-librarian, I recommend buying several copies: counseling staff might want to borrow it, and once students know that it's in your collection, copies will "disappear".

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher librarian and Cindy Mitterndorfer is a teacher and staff advisor to the Gay-Straight Alliance at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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