LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] youth have been a rising topic in the media as of late and the circumstances have been devastating.
Bullying is a problem, suicide is a tragedy, and the solution will require us to take a look at the world that queer youth live in today. Even in a day and age that more resources exist for young people in the form of youth services, empowerment opportunities and support from adults and allies, there is more to be done. This issue is beyond bullying and it runs deeper than any social discourse can address. LGBTQ young people should be celebrated and valued as they are. There is an underlying idea that the problem lies within these young people who do not “fit in,” but really, the problem hangs in society’s struggle to expand and include LGBTQ youth.
For every negative story of bullying, self-harm and desperation, there are more stories of young queer people who start their own gay/straight alliances, graduate from high school, hold jobs, have dreams, create and re-invent themselves, love their bodies and change the world. And there are amazing organizations, teachers, mentors, and parents that support them. Places like the Youth Pride Center in Chicago, Illinois is nicknamed the “gay high school” for its creative model of being entirely youth-led in a mock government style. In the summer of 2009, a group of young people in Seattle, Washington organized the guerilla grassroots “We Need Queer Youth Space,” campaign to secure a place to create safety and visibility for LGBTQ youth. The Trevor Project hosts a national database where anyone can find local resources in their community specifically for LGBTQ young people. While the media discusses the “plight of LGBT youth,” there is also an overwhelming (and growing) amount of hope. LGBTQ people are a resilient bunch and queer youth are the spirit and inspiration for us all.
With this being LGBTQ Youth Awareness Week 2010, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition would like to put recent developments in perspective.
As queer youth and people who support them, it breaks our heart each time we lose another member of our community, our families and our world. We appreciate the message of “it gets better,” but worry that this message combined with the focus on LGBTQ youth as suicide risks continue to oversimplify and portray only negative realities.
LGBTQ youth kick ass, everyday throughout this world. They do so while dealing with coming out, being misunderstood for their gender expression, getting harassed by police, while being told they are too loud, too flamboyant and too much. Many of them do this while experiencing layers of marginalization on account of their race, class, immigration status and gender. And still, they dance, they create, they form community, they change the world, they give strength to others and grow stronger themselves. Yet, they are only shown as bullied, suicide risks, criminals; a drain on systems, as something to be dealt with.
Many of us have stood at that brink and considered ending our lives, we know depression, fear and isolation. We understand that people (not just youth) can be cruel, insecure and scared of difference and change. We also believe, sometimes buried deep inside of us, that our future and our today holds great promise. You will find ways to make it through, to deal, and people to talk to about it. Many of these folks have teetered on that edge only to survive to be able to hold us and love us. There is strength in the LGBTQ community, the strength of having been there and loving each other more for it.
We ask that the media, organizations and the wider world focus on LGBTQ youth not only as victims, but also as people who are changing the world. We ask for reconsideration on how the media report on suicides and how they perpetuate this cycle in emphasizing only one side of being an LGBTQ youth. Additionally, we ask that our fellow LGBTQ organizations show the strength, resilience, and self-love that grow out of staying alive. This is why we do this work.
In an effort to lead by example, NYAC is proud to bring the 2nd Annual LGBTQ Youth Awareness Week and spotlight Fierce Queers, five young people dedicated toward empowering their communities. Find out more about supporting LGBTQ Youth Awareness Week or participating in efforts from GSA Network’s “Make it Better” web campaign to GLSEN’s action alerts on the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Nondiscrimination Act by visiting our website.
jb beeson is deputy executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, which advocates for LGBTQ young people.