If we learned anything from the mobilized survivors of the Parkland, Fld., high school shooting in February, it’s that today’s youth are more plugged into causes than ever before. Randi Bergman highlights three Canadian Gen Zers who fight for issues from LGBTQ rights to gender equality
Jed Sears, 14
Jed Sears has been a mainstay on the Toronto campaign circuit since the age of 11, when he volunteered on behalf of NDP candidate Jennifer Hollett. “I felt that the election was vital in Canada’s future and I wanted to contribute to that decision,” he says. Knocking on doors became something of a habit for the 14-year-old, whose impressive hold on heavy-hitting issues delighted the many voters he’s chatted up along the way.
For the past two years, Sears has been involved in the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which he believes fosters a sense of inclusion for LGBTQ students at his junior high school. “Our GSA raised awareness about issues of bullying and hatred and discussed those issues in class as well as organized the school’s Pink Day assembly, where I highlighted the work of LGBTQ icons,” he says.
Sears will begin high school this week, and with him, he’ll bring his flair for speaking up. “At my next school, where programming focuses on social justice and community, inclusivity will be mandated instead of being an aspiration,” he says. “As a young person, I add a unique voice to the issues of our day – a voice that is often left out. We need young people to speak out because they will be forced to deal with the effects of today’s decision-making.”
Lia Pappas-Kemps, 14
Activism has always been a part of Lia Pappas-Kemps’s home life, where she frequently advocates for her rights alongside her older sister. “My father grew up with three brothers in the seventies, so feminism was rarely discussed, if ever. That’s why, in our house, sexism is a constant conversation,” she says.
The 14-year old has been passionate about women’s rights since watching Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech at the age of 9. “[Hearing] about all the women who were shot going to school that didn’t survive made me understand, at such a young age, how important it is to speak up if you have a voice,” she says.
Since then, she’s used that voice to speak out online and at school, even when it ruffles other students' feathers. The soon-to-be high schooler recalls a recent class discussion during which she argued that cisgender white male privilege exists to 30-plus peers who disagreed with her. “I would definitely consider this activism because an argument is, at least, a discussion.”
When she’s not at school, Pappas-Kemps is busy starring on Anne, the CBC’s modernization of the classic Anne of Green Gables. “Obviously, it’s been so cool to be able to have a chance to act on such an awesome show, but also a show that talks about important issues,” she says.
“If you’re passionate about a cause, stand up for it,” she says. “I think a lot of young people have this misconception that you have to go to a riot every weekend and donate a lot of money to a charity to be an activist. Just openly standing up for your rights or rights of other minorities is being an activist.”
Yoav Landsberg-Lewis, 13
Yoav Landsberg-Lewis’s first memories of activism are of attending a “Grandmothers Gathering” in Swaziland at age six. The gathering was a chance for grandmothers to discuss the effects of the AIDS pandemic, organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, of which his mother is the executive director. “I’ve been exposed to activism for my entire life because I have grown up in a family full of activists, ranging from feminists to environmentalists to democratic socialists,” he says.
Today, Landsberg-Lewis focuses his efforts toward sexism, racism and homophobia, which he fights as UniKittie, one of Toronto’s youngest drag queens. “I became a Drag Queen because I have always been ‘in-between’ the lines of gender, as a boy with long hair, with pierced ears, who has never liked the stereotypical things that boys should like,” he says. “I feel like I’ve had an impact on a few peoples’ ways of thinking about gender fluidity and expression, and how it relates to feminism and sexism," he says. Despite not being able to perform in bars because of his young age, Lewis has dressed in drag at his Bar Mitzvah and at his junior high graduation this past June.
Alongside his schoolmates, Landsberg-Lewis has been active in raising funds for Tin Roof Global, an organization that works with First Nations communities to help them access clean water, as well as Kiva, a non-profit organization that provides business loans to low-income entrepreneurs around the world. “The majority of [my friends] are very dedicated to social justice and changing the world for the better,” he says.