When Cellouin Eguia emigrated from California to finish high school in Metro Vancouver, he had a picture-perfect idea of what his new life would be like.
“I came to Canada being excited about how much easier and more accepted I was going to be, and then the very first year I was here, I ended up going to a protest about the anti-bullying policy,” he says.
Eguia moved to Burnaby, BC, just as a group of concerned parents affiliated with a local church were protesting the introduction of an anti-homophobia policy in the district’s schools.
“I saw there still was a lot of work to be done,” the 18-year-old says. “I found there wasn’t a strong visible LGBT presence at the high school.”
Eguia restarted and led Byrne Creek Secondary School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) to take on a higher profile among the student body. The GSA fundraised for AIDS charities and for its eventual entry into the Vancouver Pride parade.
He also began volunteering with the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and its educational arm, Out in Schools, offering a perspective on the importance of youth programming to prospective corporate donors. This year, he also sat on the youth steering committee for the Rise Against Homophobia video contest.
“I did get a lot of crap in high school,” he says. “What helped me was knowing that there were people out there who had my back, or who were like me or were going through the same things.”
He says the film festival and other high-visibility queer events have given him real hope.
“As someone who grew up hearing stories about what it would mean to be gay or ‘if I led this lifestyle’ and the hurdles and obstacles I would have if ‘I chose to be this way,’ I was always scared about my future,” he says.
“At the festival, it was so inspirational and comforting to see successful adults who had made it through high school and who weren’t ashamed to be who they were. That feeling needs to be available for all queer youth in the community.”