In a crowded classroom at OISE a couple of weeks ago I listened politely as a woman told how she had been influenced so positively by a Toronto school librarian years before.
“I was going through a rough time – abuse and all kinds of shit at home,” she said.
“He spent a lot of time with me and I always felt better better after our talks.”
“Then he was murdered in High Park and my world crashed.”
Suddenly very alert, my mind raced back to a murder that had touched me deeply in June of 1985; my God thirty years ago?
A forty-year-old school librarian had left an end-of-year staff party and driven into High Park to see if he might find some opportunities for anonymous sex. Instead he found five drunken teenaged boys, ranging in age from 15 to 18, also celebrating the end of school, who had been heard earlier declaring they were headed to High Park to “beat up a faggot”. As Kenn Zeller walked past the youths, one of them stuck out a foot and tripped him . He managed to get up and run the 10 metres or so to his car but, after getting the door open, he didn’t make it inside. In the minutes of kicking and beating him around the head which followed, his increasingly lifeless form was left for dead. His car was then vandalized.
The five each pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to nine years in prison.
“That was Kenn Zeller,” I said to the woman nodding. “I adopted the spelling of “Kenn” as a memorial to him. I don’t get the opportunity to tell the story behind it as much as I might like sometimes.”
His death was a catalyst for the Toronto District School Board implementing a program aimed at eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a foreshadowing of the board’s Triangle Program for LGBTQI youth.