Ryan Clayton is a familiar face to students and teachers across several parts of BC, from the foothills of the Rockies to the Southern Interior, and even on Vancouver Island.
Since 2007, the 28-year-old has visited schools from Revelstoke to Salmon Arm to Comox, speaking with young people and leading anti-homophobia workshops. He also served on Vancouver’s LGBT advisory committee from 2009 to 2011, before moving to Victoria to attend university.
His commitment to community earned Clayton a LOUD scholarship in 2010. The awards, then in their second year, are distributed annually by BC’s gay and lesbian business association to support future LGBT leaders.
Without the LOUD scholarship, Clayton says he may have had to choose between activism and his education.
“I was looking at not being able to afford to do any of those [volunteer activities] because I was spending all my time either studying or working to put a roof over my head,” he says. “The scholarship made a big difference in letting me still commit to my life outside of school.”
Since winning the award, Clayton co-founded the Purple Letter campaign, urging British Columbians to send letters to the premier and education minister to demand a province-wide policy on sexual orientation and gender identity for BC schools.
In the absence of such a policy, school districts across BC have been left to implement their own responses to homophobia. A third of the districts have yet to take action.
Clayton recently completed his bachelor of social work from the University of Victoria, and is currently a wellness worker (a kind of youth counsellor) at the Community Options Society in Duncan, BC. He says it was his outreach work in BC schools that ultimately led him to a career in social work.
“It made sense. It was where I felt I should have been all along,” he says. “I’m working with the youth on what they can do, and I really like that. It respects their autonomy and their right to make decisions for themselves.”
Although his new job is keeping him quite busy, Clayton says LGBT advocacy will always be an important part of who he is. “I don’t think I can keep away from it,” he says.
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