When it comes to outspoken leaders in the LGBTQ community, few could be as remarkable as Mia Soetaert.
For one thing, she’s one of the go-to people who are contacted for comments on socio-political matters of the day. There are politicians, health care officials, and religious and other community leaders. There are people such as school board trustees, church leaders, And there’s Mia right there along with them and she’s only 17.
This major human rights activist in our fair burg is all but graduated from high school, a young woman who has endured some profound personal struggles and emerged as a force unto herself, a personality with much to say and many fights still to fight.
She came out during her Grade 9 year but only after a lot of soul-searching and an existential crisis that led her to contemplate suicide. This was not an easy time for her, and declaring her sexuality – even to her parents – had to be forced out.
“I came out to my mom after I had been in the hospital. She brought me home and everybody were like ‘we can’t do anything… you live in St. Albert and we deal with people who live in Edmonton. Go home and she’ll be fine’,” she recalled, noting her frustration with the health care system.
Her parents were deeply concerned.
“We all sat down. At that point, I had been crying for three hours. I didn’t want to tell my mom and I didn’t want to talk about it. Eventually she had me write it down on a piece of paper. Even at that point I couldn’t say that I was a lesbian. I just wrote ‘I like girls’ and threw it at her and ran out to my room.”
“Both of them came down and they were like ‘Are you serious? That’s what this whole thing is all about? It’s not a big deal to us. It really doesn’t matter. We thought you were pregnant or doing drugs or something really big’.”
The memory of it still brings a tear to her eye.
She didn’t take that moment for granted. It was a very important crossroads in her life that made her realize that she had the support and love of her family. She also realized that she was not the only person in this city going through the same turmoil.
That’s when she decided that she had to step up to help rally the community and pay that love forward.
After attending Camp fYrefly, a leadership retreat for LGBTQ youth, Soetaert helped to organize the city’s first OutLoud group for people aged 14 to 24. The group’s Facebook page says that it’s “a safe space for youth to come together in community to laugh with friends, question life’s purpose, express their beliefs, imagine a better world, love and be loved as they are.”
There’s much to be said for having an open and accepting forum to talk and to listen and to simply be with people who love you no matter what.
“It means a lot to me that no one that comes to the group is going to have to go through the same things that I went through, like feeling that I was alone in St. Albert, feeling like I was the only person in the city who was gay.”
When OutLoud started, it had an attendance of two, including Soetaert. Now, it regularly sees more than 20 members to its fun and interesting meetings. There have been more than 100 people in total who have been to the group.
But Soetaert has gone beyond that. She makes school presentations through fYrefly and has also been a key organizer of the burgeoning St. Albert Pride movement.
Going even further than that, however, she has found her voice as a spokesperson for the LGBTQ community. When Bill 202 was proposed in the Alberta Legislature to amend the Education Act to allow any Alberta student to form a gay-straight alliance, Mia Soetaert was in the newspaper offering her comments.
When a public forum was held for the community to discuss how it could be more inclusive and accepting, she was one of the five panelists on stage, with Mayor Nolan Crouse and MLAs Marie Renaud and Trevor Horne listening in from the audience.
And when violence erupted in a gay club in Florida two months ago, she was back in the paper to tell people to be proud and strong, regardless of who doesn’t like you or how you live.
And that’s a lesson that transcends the spectrum of LGBTQ issues. It’s relevant to all of us. Soetaert is an important figure in St. Albert and will likely still be in the years to come.
Being out there in the public eye is not without its challenges but this young leader of the community doesn’t shy away from what needs to be done.