Clarke Fryer didn’t grow up dreaming to be an activist, he just wanted the same rights and respect his heterosexual peers got.
But being gay in Chilliwack, that was hard to come by.
Eleven years after coming out, the 25-year-old is Chilliwack’s most prominent gay advocate.
“There is so little support for people like me in Chilliwack,” said Fryer. “There really is nothing here.”
He’s trying to change that.
Fryer went through high school bullied. His car was keyed, his tires repeatedly deflated. Even his principal made him feel like an outcast when he was told not to bring a male date to the prom for the comfort of other students.
The stress of the situation made Fryer physically ill. He avoided school, wasn’t eating, started losing his hair. He was depressed, isolated, borderline suicidal.
“It was eating away at me,” he said.
But when he came out to his family, the dynamics of the situation changed. He started fighting back.
With the help of his school counsellor, Fryer started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club at Sardis secondary in 2001, which is still running today.
“I so badly wanted to meet other accepting people, people who had something in common with me,” he said. “There were so many things I struggled with, so many things I wanted to talk about, so many questions I had.”
While Fryer is humbled that the club is still operating, he’s disappointed and frustrated that not much has changed in the last 10 years.
Kids are still being bullied; still being called names; still committing suicide; and in some cases still not receiving support in the classroom.
“As soon as someone makes a racist or sexist remark in class, the teacher shoots it down right away, but when someone says something like ‘that’s so gay’ it’s like they pretend not to hear it – and that’s unacceptable,” he said.
This year, Fryer started doing public awareness speeches in high schools, using his story as a platform for building acceptance. He also started an email support group, and has organized a weekly drop-in for the gay community.
As well, he’s looking to start a campaign to push the school district into providing more support in schools for the LGBTQ community.
“I have to do something, because if nobody steps up, it’s never going to get better,” Fryer said.