On Degrassi: Next Class a Syrian Refugee Story Collides with the Queer Straight Alliance

degrassi zoe
Cassie Sheets

The season three premiere of Degrassi: Next Class, "#BreakTheInternet," began with the start of a new school year. Zoë Rivas, the new student body president, is putting the final touches on a welcome party for new students at Degrassi High, including a group of Syrian refugees. Conflict quickly erupts when the Queer Straight Alliance finds their club has been moved to a janitor’s closet since Zoë decided to convert their old meeting space into a more central prayer room for the refugee students.

When the Queer Straight Alliance stages a kiss-in to protest the move, Zoë tells them she’s worried about the more conservative students being offended by the idea of sharing the room. When the group accuses her of homophobia, she outs herself, which works until Vijay posts a video online calling her a "self-hating gay."

degrassi season 3 kiss in
Zoë is terrified her Catholic mom will see the video—and she does. Of course, Zoë’s mom is as clueless as all adults in the Degrassi universe, and tells her daughter not to worry about the "awful things" Vijay said in his video, assuring her no one will believe she's gay. "It happens to all powerful women," she tells Zoë, "even Hillary."

This letdown with her mother prompts Zoë to create her own safe space at school. In a speech to the new students, she announces the prayer room and QSA will be sharing a space. She says as a gay student she understands that everyone has one thing in common: they just want to be loved for who they are. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian students who just fled from a devastating civil war are not that concerned about their new student body president’s sexual orientation.
degrassi rasha
Rasha Zuabi, one of the new refugee students, congratulates Zoë after her speech, telling her it was cool that she decided to share the space because something like that wouldn’t happen in Syria. If you sense major crush vibes between Zoë and Rasha, all your shipping dreams will be rewarded later in the season.

While Degrassi: Next Class generally handles major issues with the subtlety of a piano dropping on your head from a six-story building, at least this episode subverted some of the stereotypes we see play out over and over again on television.

Degrassi: Next Class is currently streaming on Netflix worldwide.

 

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