I realized I was gay the summer before my 15th birthday. It took me just over a year to come to terms with my sexuality before I had the courage to start coming out to my friends.
While I had their support, it was difficult — mostly because I was one of the only openly queer students at my Catholic high school.
One of the main reasons for this was that my school, like many others, lacked a gay-straight alliance and other forms of support for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
I approached my school’s administration in hopes of starting a GSA. In response, I was told that if the school were to tell students “of that lifestyle” (“that lifestyle” meaning being queer) that it was OK to live the way they do, but they were not accepted at home and were to self-harm because of it, the burden would rest on my shoulders.
This is an absurd burden to place on anyone, let alone a 17-year old who had only recently come to terms with his sexuality.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange recently introduced Bill 8. This bill, which looks to amend the Education Act, features a series of changes that directly and dangerously impact a student’s capacity to form a gay-straight alliance.
This is done by not guaranteeing the usage of the words “gay” and “queer,” and forcing vulnerable students to have to appeal to the school board if their request for a GSA is not immediately approved.
Put simply, this is an extremely problematic idea.
I tried to fight for a GSA at my high school, and it led to me being outed to the school’s administrative team before I had the opportunity to tell my own family.
This was all legal and perfectly acceptable before the previous NDP government passed Bill 24, An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances.
Those protections are so important: students need to know that they won’t have to fight to protect their own privacy. They need support so that they can come out on their own terms.
With Bill 8, we are forcing vulnerable queer and transgender students into positions that they should never be in.
High school is meant to be an opportunity for youth to explore their identities and focus on achieving academic success. It is not meant to be a space where students have to fight to have basic supports and be used as political pawns for a party that has swayed from its elected mandate into a carte blanche-style of government.
Things may look grim, but hope should not be lost. We have an opportunity to stand together and tell our government that their plans for GSAs and queer youth are unacceptable for Alberta.
We have come too far for students to have to go through the same realities I faced five years ago.
Ben Angus is an Edmonton resident.