Gay-Straight Alliances have become a bit of a hot topic in our province recently. These groups are collectives of students who work together to foster better relationships between students of different sexual orientations. They have been shown to be extremely beneficial, particularly to gay and transgender students, helping them to navigate the teen years which can be difficult and tumultuous regardless of your sexual orientation. GSAs allow students to come together and build on their similarities as opposed to delineating their differences, support each other, come to new understandings of each other and work together to encourage welcoming and open school environments for students of all demographics.
I was incredibly proud of the Intrepid Junior Blogger when she shared the news of her new group with me. One of the most important values I have always wanted for my daughter was to see people as equals regardless of any differences between them. I wanted her to always understand that what makes us similar is far greater than what makes us different and to always work to ensure that all people felt included and valued. When I told her that GSAs are the subject of some controversy she had one reaction: “Why do you people have to make such a big freaking deal out of everything? It’s a student group like Model UN or Yearbook or the basketball team. Adults overthink EVERYTHING” – and I suppose she is quite right, too.
The reality I have come to understand is that the IJB views the world – and sexuality – quite differently than people of my generation do. When I told her that someone close to us was transgender her only response was “that’s cool”, with no explanation or discussion required. She casually describes people she knows as “mostly straight” or “mostly gay”, explaining to me that sexual orientation is not always an either/or but a sliding scale from gay to straight and all points in between. It is the ease with which she discusses it, though, that surprises me a bit as there is no hint of judgement, no undertone of what is normal and what is not, not even a whiff that she sees any sexual orientation as better or worse or even different – they just are what they are.
I am a huge supporter of the concept of Gay-Straight Alliances. I believe anything that makes our schools more inclusive for all students and that promotes stronger relationships between our children is a positive step. I remember my own teen years well and I know that small things, such as a GSA, can have a huge impact on your life and your sense of belonging and community. I also happen to support Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA who recently introduced Bill 202 in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Bill 202, the Safe and Inclusive Schools Act, would compel school boards to allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliances of the exact kind the IJB has helped to found in her school. I am proud to say that Don Scott, the PC MLA for whom the IJB worked during his 2012 campaign, has voted in favour of GSAs when the topic was last debated in April of this year. The IJB was very pleased when I told her this, but decidedly less pleased when I noted other MLAs were not quite so supportive of the concept of allowing students to form GSAs if they chose to do so.
“Someday this won’t even be a question, Mom,” she said. “Someday it will just be normal and nobody will need to debate and vote on the right of students and citizens to form groups to support other students and citizens,” she says, boiling things right down to their essence as she is prone to do. And that is exactly it – who are we as adults to tell her what groups she can and cannot form? At fifteen she has her own view of the world and while it may be different from mine it is no less valid or worthy of recognition.
She told me a bit about what her GSA is up to these days. I told her what is going on with the new bill before our provincial leaders. You see, young people like the IJB are watching our leaders carefully these days, looking to see if they have yet grasped the concept that the world is not quite the way it was when they were in high school and that students like her will one day be the ones in the chairs in legislative assemblies and making the decisions. She is watching to see if they are ready to “come of age” in the way she has done, accepting and inclusive of all people regardless of their differences. She is watching to see if our leaders truly represent her – and I would contend that if Bill 202 fails she will see it as a failure to represent the youth of her generation, the ones who are founding Gay-Straight Alliances and the future voters – and leaders – of our province and country.
Sometimes when I talk to the IJB the phrase I hear in my head is this: “and a little child shall lead them”. There are so many times I realize that if we simply stopped talking and began listening to our young adults we would see that so many of the things we think are controversial or that we “overthink” are far simpler than we believe. If we let them lead us – let them form GSAs, empower them to do the things they feel passionate about – they will show us the way. The way we grow leaders is to allow them to lead, even when they are leading us in new directions.
One day the IJB and her peers will be our provincial and national leaders. Last night, though, as we talked I looked at her face, so sincere as she talked about her new GSA, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, they already are, and on this occasion we simply need to take a leap of faith, and follow them.