To the Langley School Board, District #35:
From 1978 to 1988, I was a student in Langley: Kindergarten to Grade 7 at Simonds Elementary, and Grades 8 and 9 at Aldergrove Secondary. While there is nothing remarkable about that, what was remarkable were the teachers I had, teachers who cared deeply about their students: They taught us kindness and compassion; they instilled in us the right to ask questions, and the ability to analyze answers; they gave us skills to cope with the present, and they gave us hope for the future.
I have no reason to believe that teachers in Langley today differ from teachers I had then: My experience has led me to believe that people who teach do so out of a love for the profession, and not for the rewards. In fact, I believe there are few tangible rewards to be had. I cannot speak on behalf of teachers, but I do know that parents in the community want their children to be prepared, to be educated, and to be critical thinkers. Beliefs may differ, but parents want their children to be successful members of society.
In the years when I was a student, there was no discussion regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. As a kid, I knew I was different, but there were no words to define me.
At the age of 9, I told my mother one day that I ‘would not be a father nor a husband one day’, and that I did not want her to be disappointed. It wasn’t until 17 years later, when I came out to my mother as a gay man, that she realized what I had tried to tell her in 1982. During those 17 intermittent years, I was teased in school for being a ‘sissy’ boy, for not playing sports, and for not fitting in. Teachers would sometimes suggest that I ‘just avoid’ the bullies, and play elsewhere. It was suggested to me that maybe I should befriend some of the boys, as most of my friends were girls. I later ended up in a relationship with a woman for 8 years, and was almost married. I was doing what many closeted men do: I wanted to fit in, to be accepted, and to be ‘normal’.
Imagine if SOGI 123, (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity training guidelines), had been available in 1982? Imagine if I had been told as a kid that there was nothing wrong with me, and that there were others like me? Imagine if other kids had been told that bullying people was wrong, and would not be tolerated?
There were those in society that would speak out about the ‘evils’ of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people, particularly during the height of the AIDS crisis.
We were inundated with messages of hate from many people and organizations; we were told we were mentally ill; we were told we were unwelcome in most religious circles; we were told that we were unnatural; others were told that we were a danger to children; we were told that we were not welcome. If any of those messages sound familiar, it is because many of those messages are being spoken today, in your halls, in your churches, and in your community.
I am writing to you today as the president of the Vancouver chapter of PFLAG Canada. PFLAG stands for Parents, Family, and Friends of LGBTQ people, and I have been a volunteer for 17 years. I have met people from all walks of life, mostly parents and family members of LGBTQ people, and I can proudly say that they come to PFLAG with one goal in mind: They want to understand their LGBTQ loved ones, and they want others to respect them for who they are. These parents understand that their loved ones did not choose to be who they are; they simply are who they are. Education at the elementary and secondary levels will help with this, so that people don’t have to go through (often) traumatic events later in life.
My request of you as a board is this: Please resist the voices of hate in the community that seek to put people like me back in the closet; stand strong for the transgender children who are at significantly higher risk of suicide; understand that not all voices coming from the religious community seek to silence us, but many will use religion as twisted justification for attempting to do so; empower your teachers to be able to teach our children not to be afraid of those who are different from them, no matter the reason.
Attached you will find a picture of me with my Grade 3 class at Simonds, led by our fantastic teacher Joan Dixon. I am the boy in the yellow shirt on the left, sporting my name in big letters across my chest. I was teased for wearing that shirt, a shirt my parents gave me after spending some time at Children’s Hospital. Despite being teased for wearing a ‘nerdy’ shirt, I wore it because I was being me, in the most authentic way I knew how to be me: It’s what kids do.
Ms. Dixon was a champion to me as she allowed me to be me, and never let anyone bully me in her presence: It’s what amazing teachers do.
Please ensure that other kids in shirts like mine are protected, supported, and celebrated.
Colin McKenna, president, PFLAG Vancouver