Let me tell you in case you don’t remember: being in high school is hard. But being gay in high school can be killer.
Lucky for me, I’m a success story. I was a student at Earl Of March High School for four years, and I am going to be attending Algonquin College this fall in the Social Service Worker program.
I survived because in my second year of high school, I came out of the closet. All my friends except one had just done the same so I wasn’t alone. But I also knew that not everyone was so lucky. It’s difficult to be different in high school when all you want to do is fit in. Which makes it hard to come out to yourself, let alone anyone else. Especially when the insult of choice is “fag,” and anything that is annoying, hated or unwanted is called gay. High school wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t accepting.
My best friend and I wanted to change that. When I heard about the Creating Safer Schools For Rainbow Youth Forum, I thought this was our chance. We developed and brought back an action plan that outlined the changes that we wanted to make in the school. We thought everything was going to be amazing, but nothing happened.
So I joined the school newspaper and wrote a column about the forum. Now this was my chance to talk to the principal, Mr Shultz, and get a quote. But everything did not go as planned and he seemed uninterested and uninformed.
Leaving angry, I went to one of the guidance counsellors and complained. Luckily, she sent me back with some new tools and a new attitude, which made all the difference. I was wrong, the principal did care and in fact he paved the way to enacting the requests that we made inour action plan.
We got posters for queer-friendly health care posted, advertised outside resources for queer youth, started a gay club – the Rainbow Straight Alliance – and I even got to make a presentation to the school council.
The scariest thing I have ever done in my life was to come out to my parents. The second scariest thing I have ever done was to start the Rainbow Straight Alliance, knowing it would out me to the whole school and possibly put me in physical danger.
We had made arrangements to make the meeting place secret, but the principal said no. He wanted us out, proud and visible, and if there were any troublemakers, to report them immediately and he would handle them. That sort of support made all the difference. He even told the teachers about what we were doing and made sure they knew what we were risking.
With the teachers on board and supporting us, the last hurdle now was to stand up in front of the entire school and tell them that I thought it would be a neat idea to start a gay club. Worst of all, there were two separate assemblies, so I had to do it twice. It was nerve-wracking, and for the next two days people made comments and looked at me strangely as I walked down the hallways. But it was the best decision I ever made.
Now people at Earl know that there is a place to go if they are queer and that they are not alone. They have the support of the principal, the teachers and the students.
Yeah, it was a hard thing to do, to come out to myself, my family, my friends and eventually even the whole school. But I know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life. I know that someone, somewhere doesn’t feel quite so alone.
But the truth is, I couldn’t have done it alone. I needed my best friend to help share the workload and my vision, and also to put up with me when I was so stressed. I also had the help and support of two social workers that run the Western Ottawa Rainbow Youth Drop-In, Brenda and Christine. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it through high school.
There are a lot of things that I learned in high school, but one thing I learned that I will cherish for the rest of my life is the importance of community. To feel like you belong, to have a place to turn to and to have something you feel strongly enough about to risk it all to make it better.