The Museum is excited to welcome Walter Cassidy to the Museum as our Educator in Residence. Over the next two years, Walter will be developing programs to highlight people in communities across Canada who fought for 2SLGBTQI+ rights. He will also help develop education programs to share stories from the LGBT Purge, which is the focus of an upcoming exhibition at the Museum.
We caught up with Walter in his first few days on the job to ask him some questions.
What are your first impressions of the role of the Educator in Residence at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights?
When I was told that my application was selected, I was amazed and excited! The role itself is so unique, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another institution this large having this type of a focus for an educator.
Part of the role of the Educator in Residence is to create resources and learning activities for teachers in the classroom. What do you have planned?
One of the things that amaze me is that when I tell students that at one point it was illegal to be gay in this country, most of them have no idea. So, then I said, okay, we need history lessons!
But I saw that most of the content available was American. And when I found Canadian content, it was often only from Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver. I found nothing local. So, I started to do the research because I wanted to find stuff that was from my community of Windsor, Ontario.
I was able to collect material that opened my eyes to these local histories. Then I started to think about kids missing their local histories in all their communities across Canada. So, I proposed a system where students can be the ones to find the information in their communities.
Now, it could be that this content already exists and the students can collect it. Or, if it doesn’t already exist in their communities, then what are the methods to find it? The final concept is sort of a mini human rights museum, where schools would display the research the students have done.
I came to the Museum in July to meet with the Canadian Teachers’ Advisory Council about this project that I proposed and discuss the next steps.
You teach a course at the University of Windsor titled “How to Teach LGBTQ Students.” What are some tips for teachers to have a more inclusive classroom?
It’s very different than when I was a kid in the classroom. And I believe, in general, it’s much better. Because when I was in the classroom in the eighties – I’m aging myself here – there was no representation at all.
The difference now is: what kind of representation? Is it healthy? Is it positive? Is it affirming? I think that is more the question.
One of the things that I have a lot of educators tell me is things like: “Well, I teach math, and so this content doesn’t relate to my curriculum.”
But there are actually easy ways that you can be more inclusive in any subject. So, math for example. You can use same-sex marriage statistics when teaching about statistics. Representation doesn’t have to be limited to history or the arts.
I’m a big advocate of visibility. If something’s visible, you can’t deny it.
What do you hope the end result of your work is?
This is going to sound a little bit overdramatic, but I think it will save lives.
The evidence shows that when kids see themselves in the curriculum, it makes a world of difference to their sense of self‐worth. This is particularly true if they might be questioning who they are, or if they have voices in their life that call into question the validity of their gender identity or sexuality.
There are queer and trans icons in every community in Canada – but we have to do the work of learning their names and sharing their stories. And that’s what I’m going to do in this role with the Museum.
About Walter Cassidy
Walter Cassidy (he/him) is a Windsor‐based teacher with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB), a historian and an activist.
He has over 20 years experience in the classroom. Among his many contributions to innovative education practices, he founded and chairs the GECDSB Gay Straight Alliance for Staff. He also created the Pride in Education resource for educators and teaches a course at the University of Windsor titled “How to Teach LGBTQ Students.”
He is the Chair of the Windsor/Essex Rainbow Alliance, which is working to preserve regional 2SLGBTQI+ history. He has published on various 2SLGBTQI+ moments in Windsor history, including a local timeline going back to 1803.
He also has experience curating content for museums. Last year, he had an exhibit titled “180 years of 2SLGBTQI+ Visibility” at the Chimczuk Museum. He also co‐curated an exhibit at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum entitled “Black, Queer and Here.”
Among his academic credentials, he holds a BFA from Concordia University, a B.Ed. from the University of Windsor and an MFA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
He has received several awards for his work, including the Windsor Pride’s Community Leadership Award and the Windsor and District Labour Council Education Advocacy Award.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.