Some days you're being called an inspiration by the prime minister of Canada. Others, you're stuck in a chemistry exam. You know, typical teen stuff.
Ryan Brown, a 16-year-old from the small Ontario city of Owen Sound, has had quite a month. He organized the first Pride parade in his community of roughly 22,000. Days later, he received a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
And on Wednesday, he joined Trudeau to raise the Pride flag on Parliament Hill, the rainbow colours of the banner matching the word "Love" emblazoned on the young man's T-shirt.
Brown's mom and dad, Rob and Nikki, his older brother Dylan, and other family members were close at hand.
On stage, Trudeau highlighted how his government has moved the needle on LGBTQ issues, including his apology for discrimination faced by those in the military and public service.
But those looking for inspiration, the prime minister said, would do well to look to Brown's quiet courage.
"Owen Sound isn't perhaps the first place you think of when you think of diversity and tolerance and acceptance," Trudeau said. "But my friend here, Ryan Brown, has proved that it is."
Brown told HuffPost Canada later that it was a "huge honour" to be invited to the ceremony by the Prime Minister's Office.
"There is no age restriction on doing good things and on making change in your community," he said.
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The Grade 11 student says he came out two years ago and it was a positive experience thanks to the support of his family and friends. He knows it's not the same for everyone.
And that's what occupied his thoughts when he first set out to plan a Pride parade in his hometown: the kids in the closet, the stigma that smaller, rural communities aren't meant for them.
"I knew that wasn't the case with Owen Sound," Brown said. "I knew that we had an open and accepting community and it just wasn't being displayed in a way that was tangible for a lot of people."
He started planning with stakeholder groups last year. While a local Pride group declined to get involved, the city council granted unanimous approval to the idea in April.
And on a sunny Sunday in June, more than 1,000 people and 25 different groups took to the streets of Owen Sound. They wore bright colours. They had a blast.
"I always knew that that it would be a success but I definitely didn't know how great it would be," Brown said.
Wow! We laid the groundwork, but the community coming together is what made this event great. Owen Sound's first ever pride parade was AMAZING thanks to all who came and supported. And young people: create a future you want to live in! Be the change! Photos @RobGowanSTpic.twitter.com/ZZVCrQUV2U— Ryan Brown (@RyanBrownBWDSB) June 10, 2018
When Trudeau called, after getting his number from a PMO staffer from Owen Sound, Brown said they spoke about how important it is for young people to make change.
"It's not just important for me. I think it's important for the whole LGBTQ community to feel that we have a leader in this country who is supportive," he said. "And I think that breaks up the party lines and it's more about, generally, having an inclusive nation."
It was great to chat with you, Ryan. Congratulations again and keep up the amazing work you're doing.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 13, 2018
After the flag-raising ceremony this week, Brown's family was invited back to Trudeau's office. They chatted about how times change and how "society is becoming more open," he said.
Brown serves as a student trustee in his local school board, something he says gives him a tool to "amplify" the things about which he cares. He wouldn't say if a career in politics might be in his future, only that he'll stay engaged.
For now, he's focused on finishing up the exams that stand between him and summer.
"There's an idea that goes around that I think is a really positive message that young people are the future," he said. "But if there's anything that people could take away, I hope it would be that young people are the present."
And to those LGBTQ kids in small towns who may be feeling scared to step into that present, Brown wants them to know there are people waiting for them, when they're ready.
There's a community waiting for them.
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