Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Do Something - GSAs and the IJB

“Do something,” she said, the hazel eyes flashing. “Just do something.”

The Intrepid Junior Blogger fixed me with those eyes and in them I saw the little girl she once was, the one who believed her mother could fix any problem and soothe any hurt. This time, though, I was not as certain what to do, as the problem was complex and far beyond my reach alone to address. But there was no way I could ignore my daughter’s plea to do something, and so we entered into an adventure that, in some ways, ended yesterday.
At the beginning of this year the IJB came home from school and announced she would focus on her studies, intent to secure stellar marks in all her classes to pursue the education overseas she has dreamt about for years. She would forego her usual pursuits – drama and the like – to focus on that, and hence my surprise when days later she came home to announce she was helping to found a new group in her school: a GSA.

I should be clear here: I had no idea what a GSA was. I asked her to explain and it spilled out of her, the concept of a Gay-Straight Alliance dedicated to developing a strong group in her school to ensure that all students, no matter their sexual orientation, felt safe. When I reminded her of her commitment to her school work she looked me in the eye and said: “This one matters, mom”, and I knew this was close to her heart for whatever reason and that she would not be deterred or dissuaded.
It was not long after that when the topic of GSAs blew up in our province, when the provincial politicians began an extended battle over the right of students to form these groups under the name of their choice and in any school district. We watched the battle unfolding with dismay, and it was one evening after school that she said: “do something”. When I asked her what she wanted me to do she asked me to do something she had never asked me to do before: she asked me to write about it.

And so I did. I wrote an open letter to Premier Prentice, using a photo from the evening he met the IJB and I told him that he was losing her, not just her future vote perhaps but her faith and trust in our government, our leadership and our province. I helped her to write and edit a letter to the MLA for whom she had campaigned, spending her precious time three years ago to ensure his election. I spoke to journalists and radio hosts, sharing her and my thoughts as best I could, under her direction and with her consultation.
It was a journey for me, and along the way I learned why GSAs, under the name students had chosen and with the support of their schools, were so important. From those who suggested such groups were primarily for parents (never mind that most parents like me didn’t even know what a GSA was and that in this case it was very much the kids leading the adults) to those who suggested “diversity clubs” were enough (not nearly enough and not recognizing the students in the way they wished to recognized) I came to realize that many of the adults in this province were woefully misinformed or misled on the subject, not understanding how and why GSAs mattered – and saved lives.

But I knew from the emails I got telling me how a school GSA might have changed the experience of those who wrote to me, individuals who endured tremendous challenges during their school years because they were gay and how a GSA would have been their safe place. I knew from the hate-filled emails from those who were so terrified of the very concept of being gay that they could not even type the word out in full, like it would infect them should they tap out the letters on their keyboard. I knew because of the friends who sought me out to tell their personal stories, of themselves and their friends and family members, stories that made me cry when they shared them.
And I knew from the number of journalists, strangers and even friends who asked if my child was gay, like the label mattered and like it was necessary for them or me to place a label on her and other kids in order to understand the issue or its importance. It showed so clearly how we didn’t get it, how we were failing our kids and how we viewed it so differently from my child and her friends who never even think to ask such a question. I learned how much GSAs mattered.

We were texting back and forth furiously when Bill 10 was put on pause pending consultation with the public and particularly youth like her. And yesterday, when the amendments for Bill 10 were read, indicating a commitment to ensuring all students, regardless of school board, could form a GSA on school property with the name of their choice, I texted her to tell her.
It might seem strange to say I cried when the amendments were read, and cheered when those who truly pushed for this, like Laurie Blakeman, were thanked. And when the vote took place, when it was finished and over, I texted my daughter and said “you won”.

And so she did, but not just her. She and all the kids in this province won, securing the right to form a group not much different from the chess club or yearbook society. They won the right – finally, as she said last night as she made me dinner – to form GSAs without being denied by the adults for whom such groups did not matter and were not intended, making it so easy for them to say no. It wasn’t the lives of adults on the line, but lives of young adults, and yesterday the young adults to whom these groups really matter won the right to have them, as it should have been all along.
That it happened yesterday is perhaps why I was more tearful and emotional than I might have normally been. Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death, a day I will never forget as I held her hand as she left this world and slipped away from me forever. My mother was a remarkable woman, someone with a depth of love and compassion rarely seen in this world, and to be like her in that regard has perhaps always been my greatest goal. To be the kind of mother she was, the kind who supported their child regardless of the magnitude of the challenge, the kind who loved fully and unconditionally and without reserve, was always something I wished to achieve.

I don’t know if I have achieved it yet, but yesterday as I remembered my mother I held close to me the day my daughter came to me and said: “do something”, and that “something” became a journey that finished with my daughter going to bed in a province slightly different than the one she had woken up in that morning - and knowing that she and I had been part of making it happen. I am grateful to a lot of people today – every person in this province who lent their voice to this cause, every politician who pushed for it openly and behind closed doors, every youth who shared their stories with our government to show them why it mattered – but I am mostly grateful to the IJB, because she was the one who led me on this journey.
Yesterday the IJB was late getting home after school. She was in a meeting, the kind of meeting every student in this province will soon have the right to attend. And I have never been so happy to be impatiently waiting for her to come home.

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