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Being Your Authentic Self Shouldn't have to be a Political Statement

During Pride month we have been reminded in the past few years that being able to be your authentic self, being able to be open and honest about who you are and who you love, can put you into the political crosshairs.

In 2015, when gay marriage was legalized in all 50 US states, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated a major victory, and it felt like we had reached a turning point in the fight for equality. Unfortunately, you can't legislate acceptance in society. You can't make people become welcoming overnight.

We are seeing a huge backlash now, with laws aimed at taking rights and freedoms away from the LGBTQ+ community. Many recent laws have been passed like the "Don't Say Gay" law, and there are even more in the works to limit medical care for trans youth.

Schools should be a safe space for our young people; and overall I have found Gen Z to be much more kind and accepting of their peers, of all colors of the rainbow. However, with schools being weaponized against our young people, it is a sign that there is more work to be done in achieving acceptance.

Children are more than pawns in a political chess game. They are people with feelings, too. And, since kids can't vote for their own rights, it is the responsibility of those of us who are older to do so for them. Kids should be able to feel safe in school, and be accepted by their peers for who they are.

According to The Trevor Project,

Hostility is the last thing students need. All students need spaces where they are encouraged to explore, learn, and grow, and LGBTQ students deserve allies in every corner. The Trevor Project research has shown that LGBTQ students who don’t have those affirming spaces are at higher risk of attempting suicide — and the presence of just one accepting adult can reduce suicide risk by 40%.

Unfortunately, many of our LGBTQ+ young people don't have safe spaces at home to talk about their identities with their parents. It is a well-founded fear, since in many instances family will kick their child out of the house when they come out, or put them into conversion therapy, which can scar them for life.

As parents, it is our responsibility to love and accept our children, no matter what. For parents who haven't been lifelong allies, this can prove difficult. This is especially true for youth with parents who are very religious. The Evangelical community can often lay the persecution on thick.

Being kind, accepting and responsive to your child's needs when they come out can buffer them from the ridicule that they may receive elsewhere.

And, for those kids who don't feel safe at home, school can provide a solace and a refuge where they can find safe adults to talk to. When the legislature takes away the ability to advocate, educate and inform students from teachers and other school staff, it leaves an already vulnerable population having to seek answers and acceptance elsewhere.

Everyone should be able to be who they are without fear. But unfortunately, that isn't the world that we live in.

The dangers of living authentically

As a minority myself, I know all too well what it feels like to have to hide who I am from others, out of fear. I am a pansexual, mentally ill, disabled woman. 4x a minority. And, with so many facets of who I am constantly under public scrutiny, being authentic can be difficult at times.

People fear others who are different, and that fear can easily turn to hate when they are emboldened by political personas and the media.

According to the Washington Post,

School hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people have sharply risen in recent years, climbing fastest in states that have passed laws restricting LGBTQ+ student rights and education, a Washington Post analysis of FBI data finds.
In states with restrictive laws, the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled since the onset of a divisive culture war that has often centered on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth.

When politicians use their place in the public eye to advocate against the rights, safety and wellbeing of our children, it emboldens others to do the same. Parents teach their children that being gay is wrong at home, and they carry those damaging and misguided views into schools, and violence erupts as a result.

This isn't a safe time for our LGBTQ+ young people in the United States.

Kids shouldn't have to go to school and be afraid. They shouldn't have to stay in the closet and hide their authentic selves under threat of violence. We should be doing our best to protect ALL kids in schools. But that isn't the case right now, and the voices shouting in opposition to the LGBTQ+ community are only getting louder.

Looking up the information for Pride this year, it is the first time I saw a warning online about threats of violence.

According to PBS,

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued the announcement May 10 to raise awareness of “foreign terrorist organizations (FTOS) or their supporters potential targeting of LGBTQIA+-related events and venues.”

Pride is supposed to help increase visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, and help to advocate for love and acceptance. It isn't meant to be a target for terrorism. But these threats bring home the importance of increased advocacy. We can't let people with these extremist views shame us back into the closet.

The need for continued advocacy

In the face of these threats, we need advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community now more than ever. Those of us who are out make a political statement every day, just by virtue of existing. Our bodies, our lives, our relationships made public to be scrutinized by others.

Just being alive shouldn't have to be a political statement.

But, for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community, living our lives as our authentic selves can invite all sorts of attention. This can come from friends, strangers, the internet, the media, and the political arena.

I have heard many others in the community claim exhaustion at the barrage of questions they receive from people in their lives. This can quite easily be the case when you are the only gay person that they know. People turn to you to educate themselves about different orientations, pronouns, flags, terminology and much more.

This means, it is important to be educated ourselves. To share our stories if possible, and to stand up for the younger generation who is currently living in fear and threat of violence.

Our kids should never, ever be under attack.

The last few years, there is something about Pride that fills me with a righteous anger and puts me on the war path when I see people treating children with so much disdain just for being who they are. Childhood is supposed to be a time for children to play, learn and grow into themselves. But how can they do that in an environment filled with hate, oppression and fear?

During Pride Month (and the rest of the year, too!) there are many opportunities for us as the older generation to advocate for our young people.

Whether you are an older member of the LGBTQ+ community, an ally, or a parent of an LGBTQ+ child, we can do our best to hold space for the younger generation. We can show them positive examples of what it means to be LGBTQ+. We can show them love, acceptance, and advocate for rights that are being stolen from them.

There are many ways to get involved. GLSEN provides the following 5 things they wish that allies would do during Pride Month:

1. Educate Yourself

2. Be Conscious of Who You Are Supporting Financially

3. Ask & Listen

4. Center Marginalized Queer Identities

5. Don't Censor Queer Expression

Providing a safe space for everyone to make their voices heard is such an important facet of pride. Whether you are LGBTQ+ yourself or not, there is always more to learn. Not everyone's experience is the same.

GLSEN continues by saying:

Soli Guzman: "During pride, people have to remember that pride is made for queer people to find each other and themselves. Specifically, to celebrate ourselves for our beauty and culture. This right here is what those who are allies must remember: Pride is not made for people to take photos and post them on Instagram with rainbow face paint. Pride is not time to kiss your best friend on the cheek for Snapchat. It’s a time of remembrance and celebration for those who are queer and a time to highlight marginalized voices who are not seen in the community."

By taking time to listen to the experiences of others, learning as much as we can about the experiences of everyone in our community, we can come together stronger.

Back in the 1990's when I came out, it was just to friends. Many of my friends didn't come out until college, when they felt safer in their expression. We found ourselves through friendships, by going to gay clubs, and talking to others who were a part of the community. Many of us didn't have support of parents or family. Unfortunately, 20 years later, this is still the case for so many young people.

We need to do our best to create a world where our kids feel safe. They shouldn't have to hide who they are out of fear of bodily harm. They deserve so much better from life than what they are getting in America right now.

Are we the "land of the free and the home of the brave" or a bunch of monsters who hurt vulnerable children for political gain?

We get to decide who we are. And, when Pride comes around, it is a time for us to be as loud and proud as possible, so that we can stand up for the rights of those who may be afraid to speak up for themselves. Pride is more than just a party and a bunch of rainbow flags. It is a time for us to stand up for ourselves, as well as anyone else who still feels marginalized.

To volunteer and make a difference, you can sign up with the Trevor Project, or many other local organizations in your own area. You can donate. You can post on your social medias and get a conversation started. Or, just wear a rainbow pin on your bag, so that others know you are a safe person to talk to.


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