Lesser Slave Lake
Noah Nicholls wants to be prime minister.
The 15-year-old Calgarian was one of 16 young Albertans recognized last weekend at the Great Kids Awards at the Fantasyland Hotel at West Edmonton Mall.
As Minister of Children’s Services, I was proud to be there to hand out awards to Nicholls and other great young Albertans who have survived life-threatening illnesses, stood up for human rights and mental health, and volunteered for important causes.
Nicholls was recognized for using his experience in a Gay Straight Alliance as a starting point to help others. After joining a GSA last year at his high school, Nicholls spent nine months opening up to friends and allies before finally gaining up the courage to talk to his family about his sexuality.
“You feel like you are the only gay person in the world,” he says. “There is a reason kids join GSAs. It’s not to talk about sex…it’s for support. I can speak to how lonely high school is, being gay.”
The Great Kids Awards is not a political event. But as is often the case these days, politics ended up part of the conversation anyway. At the same time as the Great Kids Awards, the United Conservative Party’s policy convention was doubling down on a motion that would “reinstate parental opt-in consent” for “enrollment in extracurricular activities/clubs.”
As UCP MLA Ric McIver explained to the convention floor, the motion might as well have been to change the party name to “The Lake of Fire Party.”
Though draped in language of parental rights, McIver noted that the motion was really “about outing gay kids” from Gay-Straight Alliances. Members jeered and ultimately voted in favour anyway.
It was shocking, but not surprising. For kids like Nicholls who are used to homophobic slurs, dirty looks and mean glares, it was all too predictable.
The UCP motion strips GSAs of anonymity, their key feature, endangering the safe space these clubs are meant to provide.
Not every parent reacts well to news that a child doesn’t fit their ideas about sexuality. As Nicholls pointed out, a friend had just found out he wasn’t invited to his father’s wedding. Another friend was forced to leave home and live on his own because of how abusive his father became when he learned about his sexuality.
GSAs are a place for kids to figure out who they are, without judgment or condemnation. From there, they can decide when and how to tell people about how they will live their life.
“It’s about when you’re ready. It should be up to you,” Nicholls said Sunday in a media interview.
“I can’t think of something worse than me not getting to tell people myself.”
Losing a GSA would deprive a great kid like Nicholls an opportunity to see a future beyond an incredibly difficult time in life.
As I handed out awards on Sunday, I thought about how Alberta can’t afford to stifle and lose leaders like these, young people dedicated to protecting and serving their communities.
Having gone through difficulties, these Alberta kids are ready to take on anything, thanks in part to supporting structures, communities and families.