Photo by N Maxwell Lander/ max+gna
I was really shy for forever - I don't think anyone expected I could do something like fight a school board.
But once all the confrontations started, I knew I had a responsibility to speak for the other students who needed a gay-straight alliance. That was more important to me than the fact that I was getting into trouble.
The idea to set up a group came to me last year in Grade 11. Before that, I only had one gay friend. He gave me a lot of support, and it occurred to me that everyone should be able to have backing from people going through the same thing.
Then I met another student who was having trouble coming out to her family and needed someone to talk to. She wished our school had a group where she could talk about these issues, but didn't want to organize one because of repercussions. So I thought I would.
When I started, I didn't know what a gay-straight alliance was and that other such organizations existed. Then I looked it up and found out what groups like that were called.
A few of us wrote a proposal to form a club and submitted it to the school. We expected it to be approved - we didn't think they would be allowed to deny us, and didn't consider we were doing anything wrong. We were surprised when it was turned down.
It was very upsetting. I went to the principal's office; she tried to make excuses about why we couldn't have a GSA. But I knew it was important to the students who wanted it. At that point, we had about 20 people. Some wanted to give up because they assumed we would lose, but a core of us were determined. We wanted to fight until the end.
We decided to go to the media, and the issue became a big thing. Next we booked a room and had a meeting to decide how we would move forward. We found a teacher supervisor as required, but the principal, the chaplain and the guidance counsellor showed up and said we couldn't have a GSA. They proposed an equity diversity group to focus on general issues instead.
Some students agreed with the principal; they supported us but didn't really understand. But there were others who spoke up and said, "No, that's not what we want."
So we got a club, but we couldn't indicate what it was for. That was really problematic. Students didn't know what it was, and couldn't find it if they needed it. We were worried about students in the younger grades, the 9s and 10s - it's definitely hard for kids coming from elementary to come out. That's why we needed the name.
In June of last year, we hosted an anti-homophobia event, planning to offer resources on homophobia and issues relating to sexual identity, and to put up a rainbow flag so people would know who we were. But all the literature was turned down and so was the flag. So we made cupcakes with rainbow batter and sold them for 50¢.
Before the start of the school year this year, the principal called a meeting with the superintendent and my parents and tried to intimidate me from speaking to the media. They said there could be disciplinary action if I continue to advocate for a GSA. But I wasn't frightened, because we had so much support from the community and gay organizations.
We were focused the whole year on how to make the group the one we wanted; there were obstacles because everything we did had to go to the board. Things took forever.
We won because of the media attention and way it pressured the school and the government. Without it, the board would have just ignored us.
I'm going off to university, but I want to help ensure the group works out. Now that we have the name, we have to worry about the content. There will still be a battle in Catholic schools against censorship. I don't want Catholic doctrine on homosexuality forced on queer students in schools; it's not a supportive message.
The last year and a half has definitely taken a personal toll. But the experience has taught me that if you speak out, you can actually achieve something.