Dylan Chevalier first noticed the shift when he was around 10 or 11 years old. Something felt “off,” and he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“But I never, I kind of refused to make that connection that it had anything to do with me being gay or liking men,” Chevalier says.
“So life kind of went on and I was hoping that it would eventually go away and everything would be fine. It didn’t happen that way.”
It took until high school for him to understand and accept his sexual orientation. He first came out to close friends and his parents and then wrote a post on Facebook.
“There were a few people that were like, ‘Really? No way!’ but I never got one comment of negativity and it was all positive feedback. You know, ‘That’s awesome,’ ‘Good for you for coming out.’ Family were like that and it was great to hear it from mom and dad regardless of what the family situation was at the time.”
The 18 year old is part of a group that sexual minority researcher and activist Kris Wells calls “Generation Queer.”
“It’s the first generation that can be fully out in their schools,” Wells says. “It’s the first generation that has the full support of their families behind them and when schools are not safe and supportive, what we see are these children and their families fighting back.”
Wells says the average coming out age for sexual orientation is now 15 or 16 years old, the start of high school. That compares to a decade ago when it was common for LGBTQ individuals to wait until after graduation when they could attend college and find a community they felt safe with. While LGBTQ youth are developing their own safe spaces through the creation of gay-straight alliances, Wells says they still have a ways to go to achieve equal rights and full inclusion.
According to Statistics Canada, 11 per cent of the hate crimes reported to police in 2015 targeted sexual orientation. While the number of incidents reported to police declined by nine per cent over 2014, the victims were more likely to suffer violent crime compared to those targeted for their race, religion or ethnicity.
“The reality and research is telling us we are still not there yet,” Wells says. “These kids are still more likely to be bullied and victimized and more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as negative coping mechanisms. They’re more likely to have compromised mental health – not only as children but into adulthood as well. That’s really the legacy of what happens when you don’t feel safe and supported as a young person. This has lifelong mental health consequences.”
Chevalier hopes future generations won’t have to struggle to come out the way he did, and that being a sexual minority will be accepted to the point that it becomes normalized.
“I’m hoping that in the next 20 to 30 years, not that the kids forget what it was like before, but they don’t have to think about it,” Chevalier says. “That they can just grow up like a straight kid. You don’t have to think about being straight. It just is, right?”