LGBTQ youth are at a much higher risk for suicide than their cisgender, heterosexual peers. When they have access to spaces that affirm and support their gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, that risk decreases.
Despite those very clear facts, there is currently a slew of proposed or signed laws that target the LGBTQ community as a whole. Of these, the most often mentioned is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which aims to limit the discussion of LGBTQ topics and issues in classrooms. Others are attempting to restrict gender-affirming healthcare and even forcibly detransition trans youth.
Whether these laws specifically target schools or other societal institutions, their results will be the same. Creating spaces that restrict the discussion or recognition of LGBTQ topics and people will not prevent kids from being gay or trans. It will, however, create a generation of LGBTQ students that feel unrepresented, unaccepted, and invisible.
The Importance of Visibility and Representation
According to GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” report for 2012–2022, media representation for LGBTQ folks is at an all-time high, and that’s a great sign. Even in children’s cartoons, like She-Ra, Steven Universe, and The Owl House, we’re seeing the results of a push for more LGBTQ characters—though many of these shows face censorship issues of their own.
But TV and movies are not the only places LGBTQ youth need representation. With the average American student spending about 1,000 hours in school per year, these institutions are key in helping young, impressionable students develop their sense of identity and self-esteem.
Bills like the “Don’t Say Gay” law aim to make LGBTQ topics and people invisible within schools. When you remove recognition, you remove perceived value. What message does it send to LGBTQ youth when they’re told their fundamental rights as humans are “not appropriate” to discuss in class? Less than half of LGBTQ students report feeling safe at school. How safe will they feel when discussions of their existence are censored and hushed?
Visibility Leads to a Kinder World
Elementary students start developing their sense of self much sooner than you may think. Key areas of education in these early years often focus on teaching respect for all people regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, and so on. Restricting the visibility of LGBTQ people within schools sends a very contradictory message. How do you teach people to respect all gender identities and sexualities when you’re banned from speaking openly about it?
For LGBTQ youth, visibility and representation lead to self-acceptance, which is the foundation of mental health. It’s not just about self-acceptance, either. LGBTQ kids are far more likely than their cishet peers to be bullied, harassed, or harmed on school property. Censoring visibility in schools could mean an increase in those already disturbing statistics, as students are not actively encouraged to respect, defend, or seek to understand their LGBTQ peers.
Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Minnesota
For Transgender Day of Visibility, members of our community gathered to research and brainstorm ways to support and affirm their LGBTQ peers. During the meeting, members wrote heartfelt poems, which we’ll be sharing on our blog every month. Visibility isn’t just a once-a-year issue—it’s important every single day—and Unite Cloud believes it’s vital to continue the conversation even after Pride Month is over.
Unite Cloud is a non-profit organization based out of St. Cloud, MN, which seeks to foster a community of acceptance, support, and love. To learn how you can get involved and support LGBTQ youth in the area, reach out to our partners at St. Cloud Pride or email us at email@example.com.