Op-ed: NDP MPP Suze Morrison on coming out while staying in

I am finally ready to start using the right label for myself, but for many Queer youth the last year has been torment

I’m bi. 

While it’s something I think I’ve always known, it took the space of endless lockdowns to come to terms with that label – and for me figure out how to declare that identity while married.

This year has been one of loss and heartache, and a year that has pushed all of us in different ways. 

For many, it’s been a year of looking in the mirror – and endlessly at our own faces on Zoom – scrolling TikTok, and contemplating our identities, our presentation, and our hearts. 

Being freed from the office or the classroom and having the world slow down has liberated many and left people with the time to think about and come to terms with who they are. 

In the silence of my own apartment this past year, I realized I was finally ready to start using the right label for myself. I also realized that I have a responsibility to not only be honest with myself, but to the generation of Queer and Trans youth behind me – and to set an example for them that a 16-year-old version of myself could be proud of. 

I’m incredibly lucky, and privileged. I have a supportive partner, an incredible network of loving friends, and a chosen family of MPPs, staff and party members that have unconditionally celebrated my news. Coming out to them this spring has been joyful, and a huge relief.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about 2SLGBTQIA+ youth who aren’t as well supported. 

Imagine the brave and beautiful kids who, alone in their rooms this year, discovered their sexual orientation or gender identity, but have had no one they felt they could tell. No in-person community to embrace them. No support system at school or a teacher to turn to.

For so many young people, a year of isolation has been torment. For Queer and Trans people without an affirming home life, being cut off from their communities has been devastating, and even dangerous.

In August, a study from Innovative Research, EGALE Canada, and the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council found that 2SLGBTQIA+ youth are twice as likely to have experienced mental health challenges during this pandemic compared to cis and straight folks.

A staggering 47 per cent of all Queer and Trans youth surveyed reported the pandemic having a “significant” negative effect on their mental health.

For a lot of Queer and Trans youth, staying home has been a Catch 22. The pandemic has given them the space to reflect, and come out to themselves, but it has also taken away the supports they need to feel safe coming out to others.

According to a study by the American-based The Trevor Project, over one in three Queer, Trans, and non-binary youth report not feeling safe at home since the start of COVID-19. It’s unfathomable. 

Queen’s Park can make a real difference in the lives of those kids.

By increasing provincial support for Queer and Trans community-based organizations, we could help the experts invite more youth in and provide more support. By building more affordable housing, youth-oriented shelter spaces, and having programs to help with rent, we would start to acknowledge and address the fact that some kids are still getting kicked out of their homes when they come out. By increasing mental health funding, we could finally make it easier for young people to find and access affirming counselling, without having to wait.

That’s just the beginning. We still need to invest in affirming health care, Queer art and culture, and so much more.

Queen’s Park can and needs to do more to help Ontario’s Queer and Trans youth. They deserve better. I know I couldn’t have come out without support, and they shouldn’t have to either. 

Suze Morrison is NDP MPP for Toronto Centre.

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