EveryDay, Say ‘Gay’ for Queer Youth
By ShaneLukas, Owner and Creative Strategist of A Great Idea, a Care + CommunityCommunications Agency
Think back to your own childhood. Was there ever that one bully you dreaded to see? Did you have trouble understanding feelings about your gender, sexuality, or your feelings for those around you? What lengths did you or would you go to feel secure, even if just for one moment?
Back in the early 1990s as I was a teenager coming out in rural Illinois, my highschool suffered suicides from individuals struggling to sort out these issues. There were times I recognized isolation from some of my closest friends who couldn’t process a burgeoning queerness that I came to embrace and love. As young people, those who identify across the LGBTQ+ spectrum don’t always find a safe-haven to express their fears, feelings, and joys openly, and this isparticularly a challenge in many rural and conservative parts of the country as recent legislation in Florida has made clear.
Florida is Setting the Tone
Whether a young person outwardly expresses their LGBTQ+ identity or keeps it to themselves, a school can be a harsh environment. LGBTQ+ students, as well as those perceived to be gay, are the most common targets for harassment at American middle schools. With continued bullying and open taunts in front of peers, growing up can be an extremely lonely experience for teenage students.It can even lead to reclusive behavior or, as I witnessed in my high school, suicide.
Florida’s recent headline-making Parental Rights in Education Law – otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law – specifically prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner” leaving most institutions with enough vagueness as to silence even the most innocuous references. By introducing an act aimed to suppress open discussions around sexuality and gender identity, schools are not only empowering instigators of harassment, but also actively reducing the levels of education around LGBTQ+ contributions today and throughout history amongst all students.
In promoting the law, Florida’s GOP Governor Ron DeSantis said, “You teach reading, math, science, the basic stuff. And you don’t teach gender ideology, CRT, the sexuality in the elementary schools. That’s not very difficult to know and that’s not very difficult to understand.”
Yet, queer people are part of every story. Every child—whether LGBTQ+ or not—should know the important voices of Audre Lorde, Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Bayard Rustin, and that’s just recent American history. The list is vast when you include centuries of global contributions in science, math, and more. Excising identities from their contributions harms every student of a vital portrait of our world and their place in it.
And that is the key: Queer young people deserve to know they have a place in this world, and that this place deserves to be heard and treated with dignity.
In response to Florida’s law and national discussions looking to bolster this transphobic and homophobic wave, A Great Idea, my care and community communications agency partnered with the Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network of NC for the Every Day Say Gay initiative at this year’s pride events in Central North Carolina because we below that Actions Speak Louder Than Pride. Themed with “Every Day Say ‘Gay’”, we aim to encourage to recognize the power and possibility of programs that unite queer youth and allies in spaces of support and community-building.
Gender & Sexual Alliance (GSA) NetworkEmpower Young LGTBQ+ Students
GSA groups constructed within American middle schools offer a safe place for curious students to ask questions around current and historic LGBTQ+ issues, whilst making friends and sharing common feelings. Additionally, most clubs also run inclusive events to raise awareness and educate around issues that impact LGBTQ+ people of all ages. You can learn about many of them by checkingout the GSA local network finder.
If your local schools and colleges do not offer a Gender & Sexual Alliance group as part of their extra-curricular activities, consider initiating a GSA network. You will need some help from some strong-willed students, partners in the school system, and the local school board, but the evidence of their impact is clear.
For example, there is national research to suggest that schools and learning centers offering GSA network meetings are the ones in which the fewest homophobic slurs are heard and reported. If this does not convince decision-makers, point towards lower levels of bullying and subsequent parent-teacher arguments.
It’s also important to note that GSAs are not new. There were over 3,000 registered GSA networks in the USA between 2005-06 on the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Campus Climate Survey. From this survey, you can glean important and topical information around the treatment of LGBTQ+ students. Teachers can read the survey to promote GSA or other positive activity, while students can read it to reference the good work done nationally and make suggestions to parents and teachers alike.
But there are additional ways you can make a difference…
Support Gay, Lesbian & Straight EducationNetwork (GLSEN)
GLSEN are a registered charity committed to ensuring that every member of every American school community is valued and respected. Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
They run a number of programs aimed at student welfare in the LGBTQ+ community with the aim of developing supportive educators, so as to pass and implement comprehensive policiestowards a more inclusive curriculum. The programs are for anybody who wants toget involved in the fight for equality, so if you want to find out more about these programs then click the links. Alternatively, you can donate to GLSEN here.
Get Involved with Trans Student EducationalResources (TSER)
Foundedin 2011, the Trans Student Educational Resources collective is the only national organization led by trans youth. They offer national services and workshops with the aim of facilitating collaborative learning around trans issues and work placement. They even offer a scholarship as of 2020.
Furthermore, openly trans people can join the TSER on a voluntary basis or as a member. This allows members to interact with radical trans youth activists from around the country on a variety of initiatives and projects that benefit the wider trans community. Current and past members consist of nationally recognized scholars, published writers, and artists.
You can subscribe to their free newsletter here.
Every Day, Stand With Queer Youth
The “Every Day Say ‘Gay’” campaign is an initiative to counteract the harmful impact of the Florida Parental Rights in Education law as it gives ideas to advance homophobia and transphobia to communities elsewhere in the country. It is so important that adults of the queer spectrum recognize that the power we have to inhibit and push back against this centuries long strategy to silence and closet the existence of LGBTQ+ youth (and eventually their adult selves) has only hampered progress and harmed ourselves and those we care about.
Take a stand with queer youth, and even if you are not a parent, you can play a pivotal role in raising your voice, volunteering your time and attention, and being an advocate for our next generation of artists, mathematicians, historians, and world-builders — a world where queerness is said out loud every day.