Editor’s note: This piece is reposted from Dr. Jen O’Ryan’s Medium blog.
As some of you may already know, my work centers on creating an enthusiastically affirming space for LGBTQ youth. This can take a variety of forms (advocacy, working with parents, training and education about inclusion), but eventually connects back to increasing awareness outside of the community.
Last year I was fortunate enough to attend Pride festivities in Los Angeles, London, and Madrid. In each of these cities the number of young people traveling to their first Pride event was overwhelming. Waiting in line at a shop, I overheard nervous and excited conversations between two friends. They were making some last minute purchases and talking about the experience so far. One was giggling while asking if he should get some mints and another packet of condoms “just in case”. It was sweet and inspiring to watch the next generation coming up.
During this last week of Pride month, I wanted to pass along some advice to this bold new generation of queer kiddos. You are growing up during an amazing and frightening time. Social change is slow and the current environment may seem like a huge step backward. The good news from your elders is, we’ve pushed through this before and we’ve got your backs.
Do not underestimate your potential to change the world.
Your generation is standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of queer people and allies have fought for a better social ecosystem. They paved a way forward for future generations. To live in a time and place that enthusiastically provides space for you to be…well…you. Now, the baton is being passed and it falls to you to pick up where they left off.
Pride parades and celebrations trace back to the Stonewall riots; a resistance event often recognized as the catalyst for the Gay Rights movement in the early 1970s. Those individuals pushing back through violent demonstrations fought against decades of being forced into the closet out of fear. Fear of losing your job, your home, and your identity. Fear of being outed or discovered. Fear of being killed for holding hands with your crush.
Yes, these are still very real risks and experiences in the world today, but we’ve evolved light years even in the last few years.
You don’t need to wait for a riot to make lasting change. Challenging discriminatory policies and laws is what made it possible for same-sex couples to attend prom, students to dress in keeping with their gender identity, and someday maybe even getting people to stop worry about which bathrooms others choose.
Many of you will be old enough to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections, or at least the next presidential election in 2020. Don’t buy into the cynicism that your vote doesn’t matter, or that all politicians are the same. Do some research and understand that your priorities may not always align completely with a given candidate. All politics are local, so march in protest, but then also remember to vote for everything from the highest office to the local school boards.
They will try to make you disappear.
People will try to make you disappear. This is done through subtle and not so subtle gestures. Consider the recent photo of NATO leader’s spouses, in which an openly gay Prime Minister’s husband had his name omitted from the post. It was later added, but only after world-wide outcry at the “oversight”. This type of disappearing and revisionist history is not new. What is new is our collective ability to surface this erasure and shame it into dust bin of history.
Your generation is the first to grow up with access to the world, quite literally, in your back pocket. Use it wisely. Use it to propagate change.
Queer people are also erased in less obvious ways. For example, the 2020 US census will not collect data on sexual orientation or gender identity. While, it’s true that this information has not been collected in earlier years, let’s put some context around what that means. The US census is conducted every 10 years, the most recent held in 2010. During the time of this last census, marriage equality was being debated in most states and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still preventing openly LGBTQ individuals from serving in the military. It was a very different time, the social understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation has evolved dramatically.
Not only does this decision to ignore relevant data impact how resources are allocated, it effectively ‘disappears’ non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people from existence.
The National LGBTQ Task Force has an amazing timeline of progress toward being counted (here).
We need to show up for each other’s fights.
Harvey Milk worked to bring union members together with the gay community; uniting people from both to successfully organize against shared discrimination. Queer men can (and should) show up for feminist causes, just as straight, cisgender, white women need to represent for queer people of color. And refugees. And undocumented workers. And voter rights. You see where I’m going here. There is no longer such a thing as ‘not my problem’. We are stronger together. Show up for their fights, and remember to not make it about yourself.
People will try to make you afraid of yourself, and also of others. They’ll try to make you believe that you are the only one. That you are not valued. Or important. Or powerful. That your experiences are not your own. Don’t let them.
So yes, get the mints, you’ll be glad for them later. Oh, and buy condoms….good ones, not the cheapies. People notice that kind of thing and it matters for your health.
About the author:
Dr. Jen O’Ryan completed her PhD in Human Behavior, specializing in gender and sexual orientation. She provides training and resources to organizations on developing their inclusion strategies. Jen has recently introduced a new approach to policy review, entitled “Queer Eye for the Inclusion Guide”.
Jen also offers guidance to parents and families on navigating a child’s coming out process, as well as ways to develop a deeper connection with the LGBTQ kiddo or young adult in their life. Through years of research and advocacy, she brings an extensive background on the complexities that often come with conversations about orientation and gender.