Jaeda Larocque came out when she was 13 and she was terrified.
“I come from a loving and supportive family and had classmates who were pretty cool with it,” she said. “And I was still terrified. No one should have to feel that.”
Larocque organized this year’s Hay River Pride event, held on July 27, and aims to foster a greater awareness of the LGBTQ community within the larger community. Despite the relatively low turn-out – Larocque said about 15 people came by the table adorned with pink and blue feathered umbrellas outside the Centennial Library – she was pleased with the conversations the event initiated.
“People came by and asked questions about the community and that was great, that they were looking for information,” Larocque said, adding the generational shift was a significant discussion point. “There is for sure a generation gap in how people look at the gay community. Words like ‘queer’ that our generation have appropriated used to be insults and some older people may not understand what that means to us now.”
James Ritchie, wearing stilettos and giant false eyelashes and going by the pseudonym Rexy Resurrection for the day, said he was disappointed in the turnout.
“Loads of people said they were going to come out and show their support or help out,” he told The Hub. “And pretty much no one did. If I can stand out here looking like this, they can come out and show their support when they said they would.”
Larocque agreed that heterosexual people coming out in support of the gay community is a key move toward acceptance and understanding. While she said it was important for adults who have yet to come out to do so as the younger generation of the LGBTQ community need role models, it’s equally important for people who aren’t gay to show their support.
“That’s what will set a good example for the next generation of straight kids,” she said. “Our supporters need to be more vocal about their support.”
Larocque hopes to become a sexual health nurse and add a component for gay kids to the curriculum. She said her experience in junior high sex-ed class was less than helpful.
“I think it’s important for teachers and educators to remember there is a gay community out there and chances are, there are one or two kids in a class who already identify, or will identify, with it,” she said. “It may not be useful for all the kids in that class directly, but it may help create discussion.”
Larocque admitted that the realities of living in a small town can complicate the student/teacher relationship because everyone knows each other outside of class.
“Never mind being uncomfortable going to an adult you’ve known since you were a baby to talk about sex,” she said. “At what point does it become inappropriate?”
That’s why Larocque advocates a wider approach, arguing it’s not solely up to the education system to teach kids about sexuality, but parents and family and friends as well.
“It’s a community effort,” she said.
Ritchie said it’s tough growing up gay, especially in a small community and particularly as a result of the school system. He said administrators have sent him home to change into more socially acceptable clothes and then penalized him for being late when he came back.
“Schools shouldn’t make kids hide who they are,” he said. “The people who matter don’t care because they know us for who we really are, and the people who hate us don’t matter.”
— Sarah Ladik