Creating Spaces: LGBTQ Conversations in Middle School

Emily Hastings-Speck, Greg Maxton

Interview with Author Greg Kentris

There is silence in the library, except for the rise and fall of the author’s voice as he reads aloud from the final few chapters of his book. More than 75 Grade 7 students are crammed together in a space carved out between the shelves, but the rich, expressive text weaves a spell that has captured their attention, and they hang on every word.  If I refuse to live on the outside how I feel on the inside, how can anyone ever get to know the “real” me?  A ripple of movement, and heads nod in agreement. The question clearly means something to these students, and one of them murmurs, “Right!”

What do you do when you can’t find a resource to start important conversations in your classroom? You create one, of course. Peel teacher Greg Maxton (who writes under his married name, Kentris) had become increasingly frustrated with the persistent, intentional and casual homophobia that he saw in his middle school teaching environment. Despite a strong social justice and equity focus in his classes, he struggled to find ways to address homophobia and to find resources and texts that would help students who were queer or questioning to feel included in the classroom curriculum. Instead of making do with what he could find, Greg decided to take a giant leap – write his own novel, aimed at middle schoolers, that gives voice to the struggles and triumphs of being a young teen navigating the continuum of gender and sexual identity.  Defying Gay Gravity  is the culmination of two years of writing, revision, focus groups and an Indie-gogo-funded first run of publication that now sees over 600 copies of Greg’s novel in the hands of students, teachers and families across Canada.  Voice caught up with Greg, as he read aloud from his book to students who had been using it as a novel study in their Grade 7 classrooms.

Voice: What inspired you to write a novel?

GK: Sometimes using someone else’s words is easier. In a profession where we see more and more educators being questioned for addressing hot topics embedded in social justice, using your own words in the classroom can be risky. Teachers needed a resource that would approach LGBTQ conversations directly, and a novel that speaks to students in their language is an ideal place to start. You can analyze a text using any literary work you want, but choosing a novel with an overtly gay story, written by a Canadian, that brings the queer and questioning process into the classroom seemed an important task. Students are more likely to learn about these issues from media and their peers than



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