Gay author speaks to residents, students after venue change
An American author who writes about the experiences of gay teens addressed residents and high school students at a church in St. Andrews, N.B., this week following a decision by a school superintendent to change the venue.
Alex Sanchez, who lives in Florida, described what it was like for him to be a gay teen in high school.
"At 13 years old, I believed being gay was the worst thing a boy could be," Sanchez told the group who sat in the pews at Wesley United Church.
Sanchez's book, Rainbow Boys, was named to the list of Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2002.
Shannon Babcock was one of several students from St. Stephen High School who attended Sanchez's presentation.
"I wanted to see this," Babcock said. "And at our St. Stephen High School, we didn't have a chance to see him," she said.
Sanchez was initially invited by District 10 Superintendent Keith Pierce to speak to students at two high schools in Charlotte County but Pierce moved the event to the church after several parents complained to the schools' principals.
Pierce defended his decision in a letter to a local newspaper and apologized to people who were offended. He said allowing someone no one knew locally to speak to teens on such a sensitive topic would have been irresponsible.
Since then, Pierce said both he and the schools' principals received more than 500 e-mails from people across Canada. Most of those e-mails, Pierce said, accuse them of being anti-gay.
"Absolutely not. I'm not anti-gay," Pierce told CBC News on Wednesday. "We're for all students and meeting their needs," he said. "But there's always going to be a debate about the role of schools and dealing with moral issues that are really sensitive," Pierce said.
Several students who attended Sanchez's presentation wore pink T-shirts from their newly formed group Bully Blockers, which stands up against intolerance.
"We actually have, for anti-harassment, one of the top schools in Canada," said Emily Conningham, a student at St. Stephen High School. "And I just think it's a shame that he wasn't allowed to come to our school."
"It reflects on the students and I think if it was up to the student body, we would definitely accept and welcome him," Conningham said.
Anthony Cleghorn, who also attended the presentation, said people now wrongly see the area as homophobic because of the controversy. "It's not every parent that got together and said, 'Oh, no gays around here'," Cleghorn said.
After attending Sanchez's presentation, Pierce said he would recommend the gay author as a speaker.
"Oh absolutely. Definitely. Now that I've heard him, he's wonderful. But I needed to hear that message," Pierce said.