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New role models and leaders are creating safer and healthier environments for students

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Education minister David Eggen recently took to Facebook and published an open letter to Alberta’s students. The letter addresses the LGBTQ policy changes that Eggen has been working to install across the province for the past year. In case you missed it, here’s the letter in its entirety:

“A few weeks from now, you and thousands of other Alberta students will head back to class. And when you do, you have rights that your schools will respect. 

You have the right to feel safe and welcome at school.  

You have the right to create a Gay-Straight Alliance or a Queer-Straight Alliance, and you have the right to name your clubs this way.  

You have the right to use the washroom that is consistent with your gender identity. I want you to know that I will support each and every one of you. Together, we will make sure that the rights you have, and the policies your school boards have worked on, are being lived out in your schools. 

As Minister of Education, I have been working with your school boards to make sure that our schools are welcoming and caring.  All boards have created new policies to support LGBTQ students and they will now come to life in your schools.  

In the coming weeks, Alberta Education will be promoting new resources to make sure that schools are safe and welcoming. You can also reach out directly to my staff, who can help you ensure your rights are being respected, at studentsupport@gov.ab.ca. 

As we stand together, let’s embrace the differences in one another.  

We will all be better for it in the long run.  

And remember: I’m with you one hundred per cent.”

Wow. Just…wow. Read that one more time and I dare you not to feel a little stir in your heart. I am a deeply cynical person and even I can’t come up with one snarky thing to say about this. I may have even become a bit teary-eyed.

I don’t have kids and I’m a far distance away from being a high-schooler so it took me a while to discern why I was so affected. Don’t get me wrong: this is the first time I have ever seen a politician pen a letter that not only addresses queer (and trans*!) youth, but one that treats youth as autonomous human beings worthy of dignity. While this letter isn’t going to stop any fists or a homophobic parent group, it’s still a big deal.

But then I realized that my reaction to this letter wasn’t on behalf of youth, it was on behalf of myself. I’m calling this the Ghostbusters effect.

This summer, I was one of many adults who sat in a dark theatre and watched an obviously queer, non-femme woman kick ass in an action scene. It was like healing a piece of my heart I didn’t know I was missing: I retroactively gave my eight-year-old self a vision of a role model that could have shaped how I saw myself.

I felt similarly upon reading this letter. I thought of the 16-year-old me, who wandered her school hallways  silently praying to a god she didn’t believe in not to make her a lesbian. I can now re-imagine that school as a safe space. Progress isn’t just about creating new possibilities for the future, it’s also about healing past wounds.

I’m thrilled that today’s genderqueer youth can read something like this. I hope that the ghosts of queer teenagers that still haunt our adult selves also find a little peace.

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