The Class of 2021

Grade 12 was not what they imagined: no prom, no varsity teams, no senior trip. But these teens survived the quadmester system and made their way through online school. Here’s how they coped—the good and the bad—and what they’re doing next

Nicole Hotchkiss, 18

School: St. Ignatius of Loyola
Neighbourhood: Oakville
What’s next: Photography at Sheridan College

When I started high school, I was still in the closet. I knew I was bisexual as early as Grade 7, but it took some time for me to figure it out. It’s not like people talk openly about homosexuality being a sin or anything, but there are little comments here and there—slurs in the hallway, transphobic jokes and memes, micro-aggressions that make you feel less accepted.

Last fall, I took a social justice course, and the main assignment was to pick an issue that was important to us and come up with an attainable solution. I chose the relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and Catholicism, and I did a school-wide survey to see what people saw as the key issue. What I learned was that 75 per cent of students felt that not every space at our school was safe for queer people, and part of that had to do with visibility. My proposed solution was for our school to fly the flag during Pride month. I thought that would be a powerful show of support and recognition.

The Class of 2021

That was the end of the assignment. It was up to us whether we wanted to pursue our solution in real life. I wanted to, but I was nervous. The support I got from our vice-principal, Mrs. Morrow, gave me a lot of confidence. In March, I submitted an official proposal to the Halton Catholic School Board explaining the idea and telling them that if they didn’t want to buy the flag themselves, I was more than happy to buy it myself on Amazon for $70. In April, I had 10 minutes to make a presentation in front of the trustees. It was extremely nerve-racking, even over Zoom. But it was also nice to have something to focus my energy on.

This year has been really hard. There were so many things I was excited about in my graduating year—performing in the school coffeehouse talent night, the end-of-year musical—and I’ve just had to let go of everything. No soccer, no hanging out with friends, no prom. And, of course, so many hours of being at home in my room.

It was two very long weeks between my presentation to the board and getting their decision. When I found out the motion had been rejected—I’m not going to lie, there were tears. I pretty much curled up in a ball for a couple of days. That said, it would have been way harder if I hadn’t gotten so much support. The trustees may have voted against us—the tally was five-two against my motion—but 20,000 people signed a petition in favour. The #FlyTheFlag hashtag trended on Twitter. Dan Levy even posted about it on social media. I’m a big Schitt’s Creek fan, so that was really cool.

When I think back on the questions that I got from some of the trustees after my presentation—“Doesn’t the Bible say marriage is between a man and a woman?”—it’s just clear that these people are living in the past. The Bible also says that tattoos are a sin, wearing poly-blend fabrics is a sin. One trustee even said that he didn’t think it was appropriate to be focused on such a divisive issue during Covid, which is just so ridiculous. Isn’t the whole point of the last year that it’s given us time to see how much injustice and inequality there is in the world and make changes?

Of course, I’m sad and disappointed that my school didn’t fly the flag, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t successful. After my proposal there were similar proposals at Catholic school boards in Toronto, Durham and Ottawa, and they all passed! I like to think I had something to do with that. And thanks to Mrs. Morrow, we got permission to create a Pride committee. We distribute educational materials to all nine schools in the HCDSB—tools on proper terminology and creating more inclusive classroom environments.

I am excited for next fall. I’m going to be studying photography at Sheridan College. After everything with the flag, a lot of people have asked me why I’m not studying politics or law, but honestly, I think I just get too emotionally involved. I am so proud of what I did this year to bring attention to the queer community, but I don’t think I could handle it as a full-time job.

—As told to Courtney Shea