Rick Mercer hosts 20th anniversary party for world’s first LGBTQ high school

Hundreds of supporters join Triangle students, faculty and alumni celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school.

The world’s oldest LGBTQ high school, the Triangle Program, opened in the basement of MCC Toronto in 1996. Many similar schools have since been opened around the world. These schools ensure that LGBTQ youth can access environments where they feel safe to learn.

For twenty years, hundreds of at-risk Ontario youth have found education and acceptance in the ground-breaking Triangle Program. On June 23, Rick Mercer and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto will join Triangle students, faculty and alumni to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school.

The Triangle Program is Canada’s only LGBTQ focussed high school. Students are given the structure, support and community of gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgender peers while they complete their education.

Triangle provides an equity-based environment for students who have struggled because of homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in mainstream school settings. Founded in 1996 by social worker Tony Gambini and former Toronto Board of Education trustee John Campey, the program was intended to address mainstream education failings to keep queer students safe and engaged. They worked with administrators and the Toronto School Board to establish an alternative program for at-risk LGBTQ youth. MCC Toronto immediately agreed to house the nascent program.

Over the years, the school has changed to better reflect the growing spectrum of gender and sexual identities among the student body. When the school opened, many enrolled students were older and identified primarily as lesbian and gay. Most of them were living on their own, often in shelters. Too many of them had to support themselves, working long hours at jobs while also trying to attend school. Today, many Triangle students identify as transgender. While some still live on their own, a lot of them come from families who support them in their identity and wish them to have an education in a safe space. Although this is a positive trend, 20% of the enrolled students are currently living under precarious housing circumstances.

MCC Toronto donates the infrastructure for the school: classroom facilities; furniture; technology; utilities; insurance and other amenities. In addition, MCC Toronto supports the nutrition program and educational field trips.

Triangle alumni Erin Kotva remembers how loving and supportive the school environment was during her years as a student. “The caring was so evident. (School social worker) Steve and I used to meet for pancakes once a week. It’s a good community,” she said.

The 20th anniversary celebration event, ‘Safe to Learn’ with Rick Mercer, will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday June 23, 2016, at the Daniels Spectrum Centre in Regent Park. ‘Safe to Learn’ is sponsored by Capital One Canada and TD Bank Financial Group.

“Capital One and our LGBTQ Associate Network are incredibly proud to be a long-term supporter of the Triangle Program, and it’s an honour to witness this program’s impact up close and personal,” said Nathalie Clark, Vice President of Capital One Canada. “We want students to know that they have bright futures ahead, and that there are organizations like ours out there, where you are encouraged to be yourself, and your voice can champion what you believe in.”

Capital One’s support of the Triangle Program over the past three years has included financial literacy workshops at the school, career days at the Capital One offices, financial contributions to the school’s health and nutrition program, and the development of a digital learning lab with tech-focused products to help students stay on top of today’s ever-evolving digital curve. “Sponsoring this 20th anniversary event is a way for us to celebrate all of the amazing staff, students, and supporters who have contributed to this school’s tremendous success,” added Clark.

This MCC Toronto fundraiser is presented by event co-chairs Meredith Cartwright & Vicky Bassett, Bonte Minnema, and Michael Dolan. MCC Toronto is thrilled to recognize our honourary event co-chair John Campey. Funds raised by MCC Toronto are used to support the Triangle school, community care programs, and the church refugee program (MCC Toronto is the only Canadian charity to have a sponsorship agreement with the Government of Canada that is specifically focussed on LGBTQ refugees.)