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Brian Hodder: Youth can be great role models in advocating for change

Members of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High — from left, Megan Paddock, Maria Lawlor, and Claudia Lilly — addressed members of the Springdale council Monday night.
Members of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High (from left): Megan Paddock, Maria Lawlor, and Claudia Lilly — addressed members of the Springdale council Monday night. — SaltWire Network file photo

There have been a number of events in recent months that have thrust the lives of young people into the public arena and led to very public responses to these stories.

Brian Hodder
Brian Hodder

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., galvanized youth across America and started a movement that is determined to make changes in gun laws. A horrific bus accident in Saskatchewan that devastated an entire junior hockey team led to the largest GoFundMe account in Canadian history as people across the world contributed to show their support.

As tragedies involving youth are becoming more frequent, we are beginning to see an increase in young people stepping forward to advocate for change that will improve their lives instead of sitting back and waiting for adults to do what is needed, and this is a hopeful sign.

A group of young people from a small town in this province became the latest to take up this challenge in addressing a tragedy that is often more hidden and not marked by mass death during one incident, but an accumulation of deaths over a period of time. Students with the Indian River High Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) in Springdale sent a letter to their town council asking to have a rainbow crosswalk painted in front of their school as a symbol of support for members of the LGBTQ2 community. When the council voted last week to reject this request by a 4-3 margin, the story went public. The response among adults has been both encouraging and disheartening.

In fact, their response can provide a framework for how to go about dealing with difficult issues in a measured and respectful manner.

On the positive side, there has been a great deal of support voiced for the efforts of the students from a number of sources across the province. Unfortunately, some of this supposed support has been in the form of verbal attacks and name-calling towards the mayor of Springdale, who cast the deciding vote in rejecting this request. This response is the very antithesis of the intent behind the crosswalk request, as it is this type of bullying behaviour that contributes to the increased suicide risk for LGBTQ2 youth, which the youth are trying to prevent in the first place. It is to their great credit that it was not the youth in Springdale who engaged in this response to council.

In fact, their response can provide a framework for how to go about dealing with difficult issues in a measured and respectful manner. As I write this, it is Tuesday morning and representatives of the student group met with the town council last night to present their arguments for why they wanted a rainbow crosswalk in front of their school. They spoke in a rational manner about the harsh realities faced by LGBTQ2 youth and how the crosswalk could be a symbol that can create safety for those students who were feeling alienated. They spoke about the high suicide rate for such youth and their hope to help avert this tragedy that is affecting their generation. They did not engage in verbal attacks against their mayor but spoke against the types of attacks he had been subjected to. They even offered to raise funds to paint the crosswalk if economics had played a part in the decision.

The council heard what they had to say and stated they would consider the issue further.

I sincerely hope that their arguments will be heard and that the Springdale town council will reconsider its decision. Having grown up in a similarly sized town, I know how much it can mean to see a symbol that recognizes that you are not alone, that you don’t have to hide and that there are people — especially your peers — who support you and have your back.

We should do more to encourage such leadership among our youth and support their efforts, even if it makes us adults a little uncomfortable. They have shown themselves to be more mature in how they are handling this event, and they give me hope for a better tomorrow.

Other columns by this author:

Brian Hodder: Americans facing hard choices about gun violence

Brian Hodder: Together we can shatter the stigma

Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at bdhodder@hotmail.com.

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