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If education is the key to acceptance of gay and lesbian people, many CUPE members have a lot to learn. The experience of one CUPE member who attended the CUPE Pride course in Saskatoon illustrates why.

Earlier this year, CUPE activist Sinda Cathcart taught a one-day course on gay and lesbian issues to employees of the Saskatoon Public School Board. It was the first time one of CUPEs courses had been offered as an in-service to Board employees, including managers, teachers, social workers and maintenance workers.

Garry Judd of CUPE 34 hadnt wanted to attend the course. Married with children, Garry admitted he was kind of against homosexuals in the past. But no one else from his local either could go, or would go. As a member of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee in his workplace, he decided to take the course and learn more about protecting members from harassment.

During the Pride in CUPE course, Garrys attitudes were totally turned-around. Through discussions and role playing, he and other participants experienced what it felt like to be silent as a gay or lesbian person not to talk about your partners birthday, or your anniversary or other significant events in your life. The class had a powerful effect on participants, who described it as the best in-service they had attended.

Sindas presentation totally influenced my whole way of thinking about gay and lesbian people, he said in a recent conversation. At work, I was the first to listen to homosexual jokes. During the course I realized I was sort of persecuting them.

Garry returned to work and told people point blank he wasnt going to tolerate any more harassment of gays and lesbians. Almost immediately, he himself became the target of harassment. Graffiti containing the homosexual pink triangle symbol were painted on his workbench and on the floor. Co-workers called him Garry the fairy and taunted him with questions about which side he was on. His manager promised to have the graffiti removed, but nothing was done. The verbal abuse and taunts continued. Many days he didnt feel safe at work. I kept asking myself, Is this for real?

After 34 days, Garry scrubbed off the graffiti on the floor and workbench. He told his co-workers he wouldnt tolerate any more harassment. The situation improved.

But Garry says the experience has changed his life forever.