Airdrie teen shares experience of coming out to family, friends
It’s been a year-and-a-half filled with change for Airdrie’s Jonathon Barrett, 16.
The Grade 11 George McDougall High School student is comfortable in his own skin and excited about the future. But it wasn’t always that way.
Eighteen months ago, Barrett was nervous about telling his parents and friends he is gay.
“The hardest part was wondering how my parents would deal with it,” he said.
That’s where the Boys and Girls Club of Airdrie (BGC) came in with Outside the Box, a monthly support group for youth who are questioning their sexuality and are uncertain where to turn.
Barrett first attended Outside the Box in support of his mom, a lesbian, while he was still questioning.
The group welcomed him with open arms, making him feel comfortable with who he was and helping him have the strength to finally come out.
“It’s a great place where you can just be yourself,” said Barrett of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning group.
“These guys are like a second family.”
Barrett said being part of Outside the Box has given him a new view on life and the support has allowed him to shine.
He added his parents stood beside him, his dad even attended the Calgary Pride Parade with him shortly after he came out. Barrett said his friends had mixed reactions when he came out to them, with some expressing happiness and other surprise. He even lost a few friends, he said, but it has been worth it.
“I don’t feel like I am hiding anything,” he said.
Now the president of his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Barrett is instrumental in supporting other youth.
“It feels really good to help others with what I went through,” he said.
Barrett’s story is not out of the ordinary for Outside the Box, said organizer Kacie Dougherty, manager of youth services at the BGC.
Since the group’s inception about two-and-a-half years ago, it has grown from a handful of youth to about 40 regular attendees with representation from schools all over Airdrie. Kids as young as middle-school aged attend the group.
“It is a safe place for kids to come and know they can just be themselves, no matter what,” said Dougherty. “It has really been cool to see it grow, the kids in the group have come (so far).”
Dougherty, along with clinical psychologist Lindsey Hampton, who has also been instrumental in Outside the Box, saw the need for a group through their involvement with the Stepping Stones to Mental Health program in Airdrie’s high schools.
According to Hampton, coming out can be terrifying for youth, making support critical.
“They essentially have to be prepared to lose their whole support system,” she said, adding having support can decrease the risk of suicide, school drop out, homelessness and depression for questioning youth.
Outside the Box offers not only support and mentorship to its members, but activities such as Queer Prom, dinners and movie nights.
“The kids help run the group,” she said. “It’s really them. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for the kids. We don’t advertise for the group, it’s all word of mouth growth.”
The activism of many members within the group both at the BGC and in their schools and communities is inspiring to both the organizers.
“These kids have come a long way, it’s amazing,” said Dougherty, the tears in her eyes revealing the depth of her emotions.
Dougherty said she has also been pleased with the community’s reception of the group.
“We were scared about the community and how they would treat these kids,” she said.
Outside the Box is getting noticed on a bigger scale. The group recently won the 2012 Spirits of Gold Diversity Award from the United Way. The BGC was recognized at an annual recognition and awards gala, Feb. 14.
“I think it’s great, but it feels like the kids have done it all,” said Dougherty.