Lives lived: Krin Zook, 63
Activist. Educator. Buddhist. Mother. Born Aug. 19, 1953, in Ellensburg, Wash.; died Oct. 16, 2016, in Toronto, of cancer; age 63.
Even in death, my mom Krin teaches me what it means to live radically. In her last months, she pushed the boundaries of comfortable conversation, welcomed the unknown with curiosity, and treated the very human process of dying with a pragmatism that was perfectly Zen.
In her life, living radically meant living as herself – fully and unapologetically. It meant figuring out how to get pregnant as a lesbian despite a fear-mongering AIDS crisis and homophobic fertility clinics. It meant being seven-months pregnant while fighting for (and winning) same-sex spousal benefits, before gay marriage was a twinkle in any activist’s eye.
In her Vancouver years, Krin was a “pee-in-the-woods,” flannel-shirt-wearing feminist whose activism ranged from the anti-nuke movement to Women Against Violence Against Women. Moving to Toronto in 1990 with her life-partner Annette and their 4-year-old, “queer spawn” kid in tow, she took her flannel shirts and passion for social justice to a new city where her activism shifted from direct action to advocacy and education.
The Toronto Police Service was one of the first places she left her mark, co-facilitating anti-homophobia workshops in a room full of uniformed officers. She left her last mark on Ontario’s child-welfare system. Krin trained hundreds of social workers across the province to implement anti-transphobia and anti-homophobia workshops with foster families and group-home staff. Aware of the system’s imperfections, she took pride in advocating for thousands of queer, trans and gender-creative children and youth in child welfare.
In the Toronto District School Board, Krin split her time between Rosedale Heights School of the Arts and the Triangle Program – Canada’s first and only public-school program specifically for LGBTQ+ youth. As a counsellor, Krin supported some of the most marginalized youth, amplifying their voices when school administrators, teachers and parents would not, or could not, listen. She supported single teen moms trying to finish school, counselled students on the verge of suicide and found resources for LGBTQ+ youth kicked out of their homes. She would also, on occasion, give an awkward straight boy an impromptu lesson on consent, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and the importance of pleasure for both partners, when all he had asked for was a condom.
When I was a teenager I was afraid of living radically and unapologetically. It was before the “gayby boom,” at a time when it was rare to have another kid with same-sex parents in my class and even more rare to talk openly about it. I was scared everyone would find out that the school’s “butch dyke” youth counsellor was one of my moms. What I didn’t understand at the time was that Krin’s ability to live unapologetically as her full self was what allowed her to see and support youth who were finding it difficult to live as their full selves.
I still run into Krin’s former students who immediately recount the impact she had on their lives. These stories have woven themselves into a narrative of a radical life – a life that taught me how to question the conventional, stand up to injustice and create community. These stories help me feel less alone.
Makeda Zook is Krin’s daughter.