I had mentioned previously about sharing some of the feedback received from lectures, talks, seminars, that I do so enjoy reading afterward. It provides the opportunity to see how successful the time with them was, providing my Step 1 – Education, and seeing, did I manage to bring the whole room to Step 2 – Understanding. It’s a bonus when I see those who progressed to Step 3 – Acceptance. And, on those rare occasions, there will be one person in the room who will reach Step 4 – Love, also the point in which, for me, they have realized that labels do not matter, we all have the same one assigned – HUMAN.
The main question to be answered for me is, “Did I make a difference in at least one life today?”
Our typical view of a lecture hall as we’re starting to setup before the students start arriving.
I still remember the first time Danielle and I delivered one of these guest lectures. She had called me the day prior, was I available the following afternoon? Yes, free for what? Guest lecture, Ryerson University, 4th year Criminology class, 150 students. Okay, I’m game, what do I need to know/prepare? I’ll give you the details at Starbucks, meet me there 45 minutes before class time.
We met, discussed a brief outline of what we were going to do, enjoyed our coffee and waited for things to get under way. I hadn’t been out to do a talk for some time, let alone a full 3 hour lecture, but, the subject material I know better than anyone else, my own personal story. Of course, since that first time, that lecture has changed much, there is a proper slide presentation to go with it, much information and material to pass along, and we have a rhythm in how we do things, how we play off each other (that’s always a favourite with the students), and we regularly have guests who come to see us do our work. At the start we did not do anonymous feedback from the people in attendance, but, as we became regular visiting guest lecturers, it was something our professor added, and the three of us will get together over lunch or dinner and read through the feedback. What I’m looking for is what hit home, what was so-so, what didn’t sink in, and what should we do differently next time. And there have been some that have touched me deep in my soul, reach in and give your heart a squeeze type emotions expressed on a page. Those are the ones who I carry with me every time I get up in a lecture hall/classroom/meeting room to do this.
The first time was interesting, quite the experience, actually enjoyed it and was looking forward to repeating the experience again. A few weeks later, I met our professor for lunch, and we were discussing what happened at our first ever guest lecture for her. She mentioned that the students were raving about how much they enjoyed that lecture, they hoped we would be back again, and similar comments. Professor Allspach asked me, how much preparation did it take for me to get up and do that lecture. I shocked her when I said I literally received the topic with my coffee in the half hour before class. I’ve said during a lecture, look, I have 50+ years worth of material in my mental files… I’m just picking them as I see what fits in best with how the conversation is proceeding. I have my key points, the rest is go with the flow/stream of consciousness. Yes, I can talk, and fill 3 hours or longer easily.
I use that quote as a slide during the first portion of the lecture. It’s why I still stand up there and lay it all out there for the students. Here’s why this quote strikes home every time… very first lecture, Q&A session is complete, class wraps up, we stay to chat one on one with students, as sometimes they have questions they want to ask that they are not comfortable asking in front of 150 classmates. We had 3 or 4 each, and the first few were general inquiries, did I know where they could go and volunteer their time in the community to make a difference, that sort of general thing. Then the last in my line, and they looked rather bashful, and said they had just one question, “Can I give you a hug?” Oh hell yeah, I never turn down hugs!! If you have ever had the experience of what you think will be a simple hug, but it turns into something significant, and there is so much energy released in that moment that it takes a minute or two, you’ll understand why it stayed with me long after. I inquired at our post-lecture lunch about this one student. Ahh, our professor said, I have had that student in my classes every year they have been here. When you shared your story, you were telling their story too. Almost word for word. About being a survivor, about being a warrior, about being out there because there remains work to be done. We both had a good laugh when she said her student had described me as “ballsy as fuck!” Until that class, this one person had thought that what they had survived, they were the only one, nobody else had fought back from it, could not discuss it because of the stigma and shame attached to it.
That student was my one.
By getting up there and sharing my story, I never knew that this one person needed the light, warmth, and raging courage. There was no flashing sign above their head. But, that hug spoke volumes.
Every time we returned to Ryerson, I always inquired about this student with our professor. She said, her student really took off after that lecture, they suddenly had confidence like not seen before, and they really took on life. So, imagine my thrill, to discover that in one of our guest lectures last year, this student was back in the room to see us deliver a new lecture. In the interim, they began living their life, and now are a rocking writer, journalist, activist, and more! When somebody asks, why do you do this, that one person is why. Could it happen again? I’m fairly sure it has. Sometimes the feedback they submit is not just the standard rote recital of what we discussed, they write a letter and open up. Those are the ones that I treasure always.
If you’re sitting comfortably, have your fizzy water and biscuits at hand, let’s dig in shall we? (The code is so I know place, randomly assigned student number, semester, and year)
RU14S2016: “I felt that it really touched home for me to hear of real life tragedies falling in the LGBTQ community. As a member myself it really bothers me that in a country like Canada, in the year 2016, there is still this lack of tolerance and acceptance going on because there is no awareness for these issues. I also got emotional talking to the speakers directly after the presentation was done. We really need to celebrate human beings and not criticize others differences. We already deserve the same chance at life, opportunities and love. Coming from the west end of the Greater Toronto Area, I’ve realized that in a busier city like Toronto, there is more apparent violence up front than what I was used to seeing back where I grew up. That’s why I hope to see the future continuation of these conversations between people because without advocacy for it, there is no change or progress.”
RU15S2016: “Last week’s presentation was incredible. I was very moved by Christine’s speech and her story she shared with us. I found myself in tears after class ended and I had time to reflect on what was discussed. I have never known much about the LGBTQ community, but their presentation made me want to learn more. I love having people come and discuss things they have experienced first hand. It gives a sense of validation that yes, these things do happen and this is how bad it is. Both speakers were tremendous. Thank you for having them come in!”
RU16S2016: “Last week’s guest lecturers were really informative and I did learn a lot of things that I would have not known about the LGBT community. I’m quite amazed by Christine’s story, living in Toronto with such a large diverse LGBT community I would not think there would be high forms of discrimination. Danielle’s story is somewhat of a victory story as she represents in a respectable manner (as a police officer) the voices of those that are silenced or not taken seriously.”
For that lecture series, we also showed them the Global Television documentary 16X9 – The Fight for Trans Rights.
RU1A2016: “Dear Kristine, Just wanted to say thanks so much for sharing your amazing story with us. I feel lucky to have met you. You are truly an inspiration to us all. Keep doing what you’re doing.” (I framed that letter, that was the first time somebody had written to us in the feedback.)
RU2A2016: “Last week’s lecture was incredibly inspiring. The strength and courage that you both have to share your stores was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Danielle, you seem to be so funny and I love that you can make those jokes to lighten the mood on a topic that means so much to a lot of people. Christine, I literally do not know where to start. The way you spoke about being a mom for your community touched my heart and at the end of the lecture I almost felt like a daughter. Your braveness is inspiring to no end. I’m so grateful that you both took the time and take the time to talk about the LGBTQ community especially when there is still so much unnecessary stigma about it. It was a wonderful lecture and I hope you both continue changing lives.”
RU3A2016: “To Danielle and Christine, Thank you both from the bottom of my heart for coming into my class at Ryerson and sharing your stories. It takes strength and courage to share such personal information. I truly believe that we learn from the life experience of others and I’m sure you have been a voice for those who cannot be advocating for rights and what you believe in truly can make someone vulnerable, but I don’t see it as that. I see bravery, courage and confidence. Thank you for being that voice for my community. Lots of love.”
RU4A2016: “Thank you for coming into my class and taking the time to share your story. You don’t have to do any of this, but you choose to be brave and courageous and stand up for your beliefs. You are paving the way to a better world and you are a role model and inspiration to all. I will never forget your story, it has opened my eyes.”
RU5A2016: “I was very impressed with your presentation. I was even more impressed with the strength and courage each one of you possesses. I think the raw and uncensored methods you used allowed for a deeper, more personal connection with the topic. I am thankful you shared your experiences with us. I am a strong believer that education is the way to end ignorance and stigma. I am glad you all are working so hard to do that. Thank you for sharing and educating us on a topic that affects so many lives.”
RU25A2016: “I was very happy to know that the Toronto Police Service has taken the initiative to empower the LGBTQ community, allowing them a “professional” voice, which in my opinion, just naturally provides more legitimacy to an issue (because that is just how our society is set up). I genuinely admire Christine, not only because she is hilarious and dope as hell, but because she is so strong, and talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Overall, I truly enjoyed the presentation and was able to learn a handful of information, but the most valuable lesson was that I can be a part of the change, regardless of whether I am a part of the LGBTQ or not. Thanks for coming!!”
RU76A2016: “Danielle and Christine were both inspirational and educated me on things that I had no knowledge of. It’s amazing how far you have both come and that you were both able to fight for both your equality and stand strong in who you both are as women. It was nice to hear about both your roles in the LGBT community and how you have made a voice within the community. Thank you for your amazing presentation!”
VST2A2016: “Christine is such an inspiring soul. Coming from a very conservative and traditional background, it’s not every day I am exposed to such bravery and different viewpoints. Although I came pretty late and couldn’t hear her entire story, I could feel the inspiration and positivity flowing through the room and expressions of gratitude on everyone’s faces. I love hearing about personal stories so it was an intriguing environment for me.”
RU2S2017: “I really liked that there were stories from personal experience. This really helped me to understand the issues the LGBTQ community faces. This, partnered with statistics and information, also conveyed information really well. I liked that a police officer gave a positive reflection of police work, it changed the way I viewed the police, especially because the police are reflected so negatively in the media. I also appreciated the emphasis on community-oriented policing.”
RU3S2017: “I really enjoyed Christine & Danielle’s presentation. They were so inspiring — being able to share their stories (especially when they were so personal) was truly a heroic thing. They inspired me to stand up and be the hero I have the potential to be, especially when it comes to helping out the LGBTQ community. Their strength and determination is so powerful and can really change the world for the better. THANK YOU!!”
RU13S2017: “I learned that despite the amazing work of Danielle and Christine, there is still a lot of work to be done between the LGBTQ community and the police to improve their relationship. I appreciate their honestly and bravery for sharing their stories and being able to live their truth every day despite all the hate going on in the world.”
RU25S2017: “I really enjoyed the presentation overall because of the insights the two speakers shared about the transgender community. Although I knew a little bit about the abuse and hardships trans people face, hearing it first hand was an eye-opener and heartbreaking. At the end of the day, LGBTQ individuals are humans. It doesn’t matter what is on the outside, we are all the same on the inside and both speakers reminded me of this. Furthermore, being an out gay police officer cannot be easy, but Danielle’s courage is admirable and I believe we need more people like her in our system. I also learned I should not classify anyone automatically as either a man or a woman, boy or girl, him or her, because I should not assume anyone’s gender.”
RU32S2017: “The stories were inspiring and eye-opening. Interaction with the students was great. Christine was hilarious. Both Christine and Danielle were very passionate about talking to students.”
RU1A2017: “I really appreciated having been given a presentation on bridging the gap between the Toronto Police and the LGBTQAI+ community. As a young person who doesn’t quite identify as straight, I can understand (to a certain extent, of course) the terrible oppression that is often invisible to the oppressive eye. Even though Christine went through hardships, she was confident enough to share her story with us, which gives immense strength to those who feel as though they have none, like myself. I never could have realised how important it would be to see members of an authoritative institution validate my sexuality, but it is giving me enough strength to reconsider coming out to my parents. I know now that there will always be a support group to fall back on. Thank you.”
RU6A2017: “Christine – You have a truly inspirational story. It was a pleasure to listen to you. You brought up so many systemic issues that our generation isn’t really aware of. You would have a great career in motivational speaking. Danielle – You are doing an amazing job training other police. You truly are making a difference!”
RU27A2017: “I found it very interesting about both of Christine’s & Danielle’s life stories – how they contrast and still they are still best of friends. It made me more aware of what is happening between the LGBTQ community and the police force, since I am thinking of going into the police force. I’d like to be as much aware as they are and not like the others that are stubborn and not accepting. I’m glad that there are such being as Danielle & Christine in the police force.” [Did I get hired and didn’t know it?]
RU32A2017: “Danielle & Christine – Thank you both for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with our class. As a fourth year student, I have had my fair share of guest speakers, however, I have never been so attentive as I was, listening to your personal stories. I thought I knew the struggles of the gay & transgender communities, however, after hearing Christine’s heartfelt words & honesty about her life struggles, I couldn’t believe how little I truly knew or understood. This was the most honest & educating presentation & I could not be more grateful to have attended. Thank you both for your bravery!”
RU35A2017: “I found Christine’s story to be so incredibly inspiring. She opened my eyes to the extreme hardship of being transgender and all of the problems a transgender person faces in today’s society. I have met people throughout my life with similar life stories, but, each of those people let their challenges break them. Christine persevered, she didn’t let all of her difficulties destroy her. To me, Christine represents true strength and resilience… and hope. She shocked me with her words, especially when she spoke of her experiences, that was when I started to tear up. It was also nice to hear that the Chief of Police is as accepting as he is, I was unsure of that. Thank you Danielle and Christine for showing that it is possible to find light in even the darkest of places. Much love and admiration for the two of you.”
So kittens, when we are asked why we do what we do, why stand there and bare your soul and your mind and emotions to 150 students… the feedback we receive, and those who reach out to us much later for a conversation… that’s why. Because when I get up and discuss mental health, it is one way to end the stigma. Because if you want to understand our lives, the best way is to hear it directly from us. Because we take what we learn from our experiences over the four years we have been lecturing together, and we apply it in all the areas we work. And for those who ask, Danielle and I have worked hard for the past 6 years, and I wouldn’t change one second of it. We’ve seen the change happening, and there remains a great deal of work to be done. And if we have to do it one at a time, we will. This matters.
As always, be well, stay safe, and remember to LOVE each other INTENSELY.