Even with supportive friends and family, coming out as gay can be challenging.
And coming to terms with her own identity was a real struggle for one Central Alberta teen.
Even though she is now comfortable in her own skin, many teens she knows in her small Central Albertan community face the same struggle and don’t have the same supports she does.
“It took me forever before I actually told anyone,” she said.
“I was in denial forever.”
Her real name and the town she lives in are being withheld, as well as the name of her mother.
Since about Grade 7, at 12 years old, she started to question whether she was gay or straight.
Now, in Grade 11 and 16-years-old, she is thankful for the support she received when she came out.
“Her and her girlfriend were best friends so a lot of people’s response is ‘Oh you guys are just really close,’ ” said her mother. “We got a lot of ‘it’s a phase.’ ”
That mindframe was something she struggled with before coming out. She honestly felt her girlfriend was that good of a friend. But they officially dated six months before she came out.
But she didn’t initiate the conversation that led to her coming out to her parents. Her family sat her down and confronted her, saying they knew and they loved and supported her and her girlfriend.
“It wasn’t a fight, this needed to be talked about so you guys can feel comfortable,” said her mother. “There was some worriedness on their part on how people would react to it.”
Even after the conversation, she said she was still really worried.
“Coming out to my friends wasn’t that hard, but when they started to tell people I’d get weird looks in the hall,” she said. “Guys would make some disturbing comments.”
“Boys can be a little perverted about the whole thing,” said her mother.
She responds to the comments by telling them, in a matter-of-fact way, that this is who she is and they shouldn’t be making those comments.
“Most of the time they look blankly at me because they don’t expect me to say anything back and then they walk away,” she said, adding there’s the odd time where they just keep going with the disturbing comments.
“It doesn’t bother me as much anymore.”
She has found support among her friends and her parents, but not everyone in her community is as lucky.
“I’m friends with a couple of guys and they still get taunted by other guys and they get a lot of ridicule in their relationship,” she said. “They brush it off, but I don’t think that should be part of their life coming to school and knowing they’re going to get bullied about things they can’t change.”
She’s been asked to help other teenagers in her community with advice on confronting their own sexuality.
She is part of a group working to develop a community-based gay-straight alliance, without a connection to a school, to offer support for youth.
The group is still in the early stages but she said it is much needed for the community.
“There’s nothing here at all,” she said. “It would be so people aren’t afraid to come out.
“Some people’s parents aren’t OK with it, some people’s teachers aren’t OK with it.”
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has put bill 10 on hold until the New Year. The bill would allow school boards to reject the creation of gay-straight alliances in schools, but give students the power to petition Alberta Education to sanction an alliance. However, the legislation was unclear on where the groups would be allowed to meet, potentially pushing them out of the schools.
A study by the University of British Columbia in 2008 showed that the odds of teens having suicidal thoughts were reduced by half in schools that have such groups in place.
“There are a lot of people in our high school alone that are too scared to tell their parents and they don’t have anyone to talk to about it and they feel weird just coming up to me and saying ‘Is it OK that I’m not straight?’ ” she said.
Her mother agreed with the need for a support group not only for youth struggling with their own identity, but for the parents who still have to learn how to respond.
“A lot of families don’t know how or choose not to or they deny it,” said the mother. “Support groups would be huge for them, too.”
“It needs to be discussed because everyone pushes it away,” she said. “They fear that they’re going to get judged for thinking it’s OK. Even people who are straight worry they may lose friends for being a part of a gay-straight alliance.”