Former Vancouver high-school student leaders
Jennifer Yoon shows a deep sense of humanity when she talks about gay rights.
There’s no doubt that she can kick around intellectual concepts like equality or liberty, but she frames a narrative of her previous work as a Vancouver high-school student leader around such a tender and fragile emotion as youthful love.
“If one thing is sacred before anything else for young people growing up, I think it’s young love,” Yoon told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
That’s why it’s important, Yoon said, that the school system be an accepting world for youth, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I mean, love is so difficult to define,” she explained, “and for anyone to dictate what is or what isn’t, or for anyone to not protect the right of someone else to love whoever they desire, I think it’s absolutely vital.”
Yoon begins her freshman year at McGill University in the fall. As a student at Lord Byng Secondary School, she served as vice-president and, eventually, president of the Vancouver District Students’ Council. The group represents elected student councils from all secondary schools and alternative programs in the city.
At a school-board meeting in 2011, she defended Out in Schools, an education-district-endorsed program that engages youth through film on issues of homophobia and bullying. Present at that meeting were protesting members of the conservative group Culture Guard.
“I used the question-and-answer period to address the [school board] chairperson, tell her [Patti Bacchus] my experiences with LGBTQ rights in schools, and how a lot of LGBTQ youth still need support,” she said.
Yoon shares a lot of things with Leah Bae, who preceded her as president of the VDSC. The two are both former Lord Byng students. They were brought up in Vancouver but born in South Korea. They’re both straight.
Bae, an incoming second-year student at the University of Toronto, looks at homophobia within a larger picture. In an article she wrote for the Purple Letter Campaign, an advocacy drive for antihomophobia legislation for B.C. schools, she related that she experienced her “fair share of bullying growing up”.
According to her, “racism, sexism, and exclusion were a few of the problems” she encountered. “Although I had never had to deal with homophobia, I understand well enough that no person should ever be put in a circumstance in which they are vulnerable,” she wrote.
In the lead-up to the 2012 antibullying Pink Shirt Day, Bae, Yoon, and the VDSC wrote Premier Christy Clark about the importance of a provincewide sexual-orientation and gender-identity policy for schools.
“Homophobia is alive and well in this province;” they told Clark. “Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
On the phone from Toronto, Bae pointed out that it doesn’t make sense for LGBTQ people to be treated differently than the rest. “You don’t choose to be gay or you don’t choose to be lesbian,” Bae said. “You don’t choose any of it. You’re born that way.”