One day in high school, I remember passing by two guys that were talking about girls, I remember one of them distinctly saying, “…you know, all of the ugly girls must be lesbians.”
For me, I was lucky. I have a strong, supportive family that took me to get help when clearly things were going wrong. I was able to get through high school and make it to college. Not everyone has that opportunity or has accepting parents or access to good mental health care. With the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, for adults who are struggling to survive in families, it is a push in the right direction and a brighter future. We are moving forward in this country in a way that has me optimistic about legislative reform.
Homophobia was something I manifested in high school, and is something most lgbt youth experience. For youth 10-24 in the US, suicide is the second leading cause of death. LGBT people in the same age group are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Homophobia is both external and internal. Internally, it is violence against ourselves because of normalized settings that make us believe it is okay. Externally it is ignorance, fear, and power that drive people to violent acts. That’s why 64% of trans individuals have experienced sexual assault.
While marriage equality alleviates a burden, it does not cover the full extent of our experience with homophobia. This is why it is important not only to be positive towards the LGBT population, but to destroy negative stereotypes and beliefs in dialogue before it manifests internally in someone in the closet and as external hate from ignorant, violent indiviuals . As I have grown up, I have become stronger and resilient, but many youth break. Many youth are kicked out of their houses, neglected, physically assaulted. Remember Leelah? Her story isn’t a unique experience.
The next battle for the LGBT community and allies is on the steps of high schools. So many of my peers and friends have remarked about not having strong foundations in their high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) if they were lucky enough to have one at their school. Ohio State University is lucky in having 17 LGBT clubs and a great Multi Cultural Center that is increasingly responsive to LGBT students’ needs. Yet, many do not get the opportunity to go to college and many LGBT youth die before given the opportunity.
I believe mentorship from college students in GSAs is the solution. This is because of my luck growing up and serving with the YMCA of Youngstown’s summer camp, Camp Fitch. Camp Fitch, provided me opportunities to grow when I was a camper. I connected with counselors and bonded with a few, these relationships, unknowingly, saved me from my worst times when I was still trapped in the closet as an LGBT+ youth. The encouragement, positivity, and enthusiasm came from people within my age reach. I could relate to them amazingly well, and as I became a counselor, it was easy to extend my experiences of being a teen to the campers I worked with.
Last week I was able to attend a meeting of GLSEN of Dayton to see how a non profit connects and provides assistance to LGBT youth. I drove down from Cleveland at 5am to a local library in Dayton and I was completely shaken from the experience. I said very little and mostly listened and absorbed not only what I was hearing, but what I was feeling. The stories I heard of youth ranged from suicide, corrective rape, physical attacks, and more. The efforts being led by these volunteers and interns is a very emotionally charged and challenging endeavor. I applaud them for their efforts. Not only is it a struggle to reach out to students, but it is also a struggle to work alongside other LGBT organizations with similar missions in an effective manner across the state.
Internal politics from such critical organizations is a large impediment that I have seen too frequently. It must stop. This is why I believe firmly in creating a LGBT youth table for all non profit organizations in the state of Ohio that work with LGBT youth. We need to maximize and connect all these organizations to save youth in school while advocating for them in our local and state legislatures. There must be a collective hand and a collective voice.
As most of my friends, allies, and LGBT leaders know at Ohio State, we do not accept or tolerate homophobic remarks and behavior. We must transgress our surroundings and build a stronger community, Ohio, and America. There needs to be a bridge to where college leaders in the LGBT community can enlighten and empower young allies and LGBT youth. There also needs to be a collective effort from adults to press on our Ohio State legislature and governor to protect and serve these kids.
We must teach the youth what we wished to teach our younger selves in order to save ourselves. Better Gay Straight Alliances at more high schools with a strong connection to older peers will build and fortify love and tolerance. We must build stronger allies who will listen and love. We must extend a hand to youth so they can can live with love, fall in love, and maybe get married like us, too.