3 min

Queer youth speak out

Politicians avoiding their issues, say Vancouver queer youth

Yes, there’s political apathy among some queer youth-as there is among the rest of the public.

But there’s also a desire for a better world-and the understanding that voting can help bring it closer.

And some gay youth interviewed in a special forum put on for an Xtra West reporter wonder why politicians are ignoring them.

“We’re going to be growing up to vote for them so they should be doing something to get us interested. They’re not. If you’re a kid, they pay no attention to you. You’re a kid, you’re stupid. You don’t understand. Well, most of us really do,” says one youth who goes by the street name Joey Fuck.

“We have different ideas. It’s our future too,” the 20-year-old self-described anarchist says.

They’re concerned about equality issues such as gay marriage and civil rights, the youth tell Xtra West. They don’t want Canada in Iraq. Moreover, they want the voting age lowered so they can have their say in determining the future course of the country.

With 31.9 per cent of the population under the age of 24 as of the 2001 census, that’s a significant demographic that politicians ignore at their peril.

But, the youth say, it’s not the political parties which are most at fault for youth not connecting with the political process. They place that blame on the school system.

“It’s so minimal, the knowledge that you get from schools about what’s going on,” says Lisa, 20. “You learn a lot about the history but you don’t learn so much about the current affairs. We know so much about other countries. I wish we knew more about our own.

“I know more about the American election than I do about the Canadian election.”

And, adds Joey, social studies goes to about 1960 and stops.

“History is 1990,” Joey says. “Let’s get a move on.”

Adds Heather, 20: “Without knowing what happened in the past, you can’t change the future.”

All agree the voting age should be lowered from the current 18. But, they caution, for that to happen youth need the tools of knowledge to be responsible voters. That’s where the schools come in, they say.

As a result, they’ve educated themselves so they can participate responsibly when marking their ballot.

But, they say, they want to see politicians do the same to woo the votes of youth gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered.

The youth want to see politicians more engaged with queer issues in general. They see members of Parliament distanced from concerns underlying aspects of queer issues such as gay marriage.

“They don’t really go around the community and talk about the community itself. They might know about those [same-sex] cases and the laws behind it but they don’t know the issues that lie beneath-like homophobia or basic homosexual issues that we have to deal with. They don’t try to understand what’s going on,” Lisa says.

“They hardly even do anything for the [queer] youth. Period.”

And, says Joey, 20, the need for politicians to educate themselves extends to transgendered issues.

“There are kids like teenagers that want to start transitioning and stuff, but they can’t,” Joey says. “It should be covered by health care.”

Joey is eyeing the Green Party or the NDP at the ballot box. Lisa hasn’t decided where her vote is going.

“If I had my way, we wouldn’t have a government,” Joey says.

Lisa, 20, isn’t so much concerned with the parties, though. She’s more interested in the person wanting to be her member of Parliament.

“It’s not exactly all the way what the ideology is, it’s how the person can use their power to make a better place that we are living in,” she says.

While most of the youth spoken to in the group interview did not know who former Burnaby-Douglas MP and first out Parliamentarian Svend Robinson is, they want to see more out queers in the House of Commons.

“If there’s 301 (MPs), there must be quite a few homos in there,” Joey says.

But, acknowledges James Cation, 17, getting elected as an open queer is not easy.

“It’s relatively hard, especially if you want to be up in power, to actually be gay and out,” he says. “It’s hard to get more power if somebody in power on top of you can vote you out.”

And, as the youth put the fault for lack of interest in Canada with the school system, they also want the federal government to do something about school safety issues.

“I got beat up every day for being queer,” Joey says. “It was hell. Words or fists, it’s all the same.”

While school safety is primarily a provincial issue, Joey points to a personal encounter with homophobic police officers. That’s something federal politicians should be addressing, Joey says.

With some queer youth facing tough situations at home or at school, the election is one of the furthest things from their mind, they say.

“A lot of my friends, they don’t care about the election because they’re too busy trying to survive,” Lisa says.

Romi Chandra of GAB Youth Services says there’s been much talk about getting youth engaged with the political process but says little has changed from all three levels of government.

“Schools aren’t pushing young people, encouraging them to vote,” he says. All levels of government should be working to find a way to get the next generation of voters interested in the process.

And he agrees with lowering the voting age.