It can be hard for many people, who come from places of privilege and have only known what it is like to be part of the status quo, to understand just how dangerous it is to have a marginalized existence.
Knowing first hand that who you are and the reactions of strangers, or family to that truth can turn into angry, hateful and even violent confrontations is a reality that unfortunately still exists for people in this world, this country, this province and even within our Bow Valley bubble.
The idea that identity politics can put people’s lives at risk can seem too much at times to comprehend – especially with all the victories won in our society to understand, acknowledge and protect human rights.
But if the 2019 Alberta election tells you anything about our province and the people who call it home, it is that we still have work to do to keep us on this path toward a future based on the recognition of every individual’s human rights – even if they are under the age of 18.
The debate over gay-straight alliances is an example of an issue that continues to pit us against each other.
GSAs are proven safe spaces for young people who are in the process of discovering their identity – whether that is sexual or gender based. Being a teenager is already a challenging time, but imagine that discovering who you are makes people around you angry and their reactions range from verbal abuse, looks of disgust, discrimination, isolation and sometimes even violence.
Now imagine these people are your family or friends and that everything you have known up until this point has been to hold those relationships as sacred.
Would you hide who you are if you knew the people who have loved and supported you think that your identity is perverse or disgusting?
The thing is that when we do not honour our authentic selves, when we are not allowed to be who we truly – we suffer. That suffering can manifest in so many ways and they are all destructive, and when suicide becomes the only way someone is able to escape that suffering we have a responsibility as a society to recognize that and respond appropriately.
This is why gay straight alliances are important spaces for youth – because connection and support nurtures our lives. It gives it a richness of meaning so we no longer feel alone and hopeless. When we are accepted for who we are it allows us to be grow into healthy, productive adults with a sense of selfworth and respect.
The complexity of the current debate revolves around the fact that parents are part of their children’s lives and want to know where they are and what they are doing. Understandable – it is called parenting afterall.
But even though youth under the age of 18 fall under the responsibility of their legal guardians – they also have rights. And when the actions of adults put the lives of children at risk, society has long deemed it appropriate to step in and intercede.
So when we are discussing GSAs and the issue of parental notification it comes down to who’s rights takes precedence.
Because members of the LGTBQ community are subject to discrimination and hate to the degree that it can put their lives at risk – their rights should take a higher precedence than parents’ right to know.
The Bow Valley is not immune to this. We have lost youth in our community for these very reasons.
But the valley is also a place where values of dignity and respecting human rights is important and where GSAs already exist providing youth with a place to belong and explore who they are without fear of violence.
That’s why GSAs should be protected as they currently exist because any attempt to change them would only endanger our youth.