TW: The following article mentions homophobia, depression, suicide and suicidal ideation.
2,647,755. That’s how many LGBTQIA+ identifying youth there are aged 13-18 in the United States. That’s around 9.5% of teens. That’s over 2.5 million children, and those are just the ones who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+. Additionally, in the United States, there are approximately 150,000 transgender youths aged 13-17. We are here, and we are certainly not going away.
There have been an estimated 503,073 suicide attempts among LGBTQIA+ youth in the past year, a shockingly high proportion. Furthermore, among transgender youth, a staggering 50% struggle with suicidal ideation or have attempted suicide in the past year. The oppression LGBTQIA+ people face, unfortunately, makes it necessary to continually assert our own existence. We are here, and we are certainly not going away.
Middle school and high school are difficult times for everyone. Psychologically speaking, adolescence is when children begin to establish their own identities. Regardless of how popular you are, this is a difficult process. As adolescents gain more freedom, they can explore their identity and interests; the music they listen to may change, how they dress may evolve and their hobbies may shift. Teens start behaving less like their parents, whether that be their political ideations or religious values. However, an increase in awareness of societal expectations and pressures comes with these changes. When it becomes abundantly clear that society views being gay as a problem, it can cause depression, confusion, anxiety, isolation and ostracization. Often one’s peers may view the colors of the rainbow as some kind of attack—the world was not built for those who do not fit into the confines of society’s closed-minded cages. This then leaves some to wonder, “why am I like this?”
Some may choose to hide to survive. They push away all the thoughts they cannot control, not because they want to, but because society tells them that’s what is necessary to be happy and successful. For others, hiding may not be a possibility. For some children, their identities are like blood in shark-infested waters, as society has an expectation of exactly what a gay person “looks” like—how they sound, walk, talk and act.
There is nowhere to hide when there is no support and nowhere to run. I’m not sure many people understand what this is like—the complete and total lack of support one faces when they are LGBTQIA+. It feels similar to that first moment during a thunderstorm and the power shuts down—the scary moment when you are plunged into darkness and don’t have any idea what is happening. Except, it’s drawn out indefinitely, and for a child living in a state like Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota or West Virginia—all of which have proposed or passed anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, such as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”—this moment may feel like it will last forever. Young adults in this situation may not know if they will ever find support.
Sure, we know that these children can eventually move away and go to some liberal arts college where they will find other queer people. However, their world is in darkness right now. When the lightning strikes and the TV cuts out, do you have the immediate clarity to know that it’s just a power outage, or do you freeze for a few seconds as you try and gain your bearings? These children are frozen, and they don’t know that everything will be okay because no one is there to tell them. When you tell them to “hold on, it gets better,” you are asking someone who is only 13 years old, or possibly younger, to simply push through extreme amounts of adversity with no support. Did you ever stop to think whether you could do the same?
A lack of visibility and support is quite literally killing children.
I am done arguing with my peers and strangers online about why children need to know that their existence is recognized. To have my identity, experiences and struggles reduced to a political dispute is infuriating. I can watch the fervor with which state governments pass these cheekily named and unabashedly homophobic bills while being old enough to have developed support from family and friends. But, even I cannot imagine what it would be like to be 16 years old again, watching as my identity is described as something so corrosive that legal intervention is required to prevent any discussion of it.
Visibility can and will save our youth. Think about it—after the initial shock subsides from the power cutting out, you may look outside to see if the other houses on the street also don’t have electricity. You may even try to call your neighbor and see if they have power. You instinctively look for others in your situation for reassurance. So why would you expect that children would not need that same type of validation?
The fact is that whether you say gay or not, gay people exist. RuPaul Charles, a gay drag queen, has won 11 Emmy’s—the most-awarded Black artist in Emmy’s history. Pete Buttigieg, a gay military veteran who speaks seven languages, is the United States secretary of transportation. Tim Cook, an openly gay man, is the CEO of Apple, one of the biggest companies in the world. Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is the first transgender actress to win a Golden Globe. Adam Rippon is an openly gay former United States Olympic athlete. These people all exist and are successful.
To say that a gay person cannot be successful simply because they are gay is unequivocally, shamefully and ignorantly incorrect. There is no industry in which a gay person cannot find success. Denying someone’s identity will not help them go any further in their lives. If we as a society think that not telling children that it is okay to be who they are is somehow helping them, I would hate to see what hurting them looks like.
Addendum: Text diverges slightly from the printed version of this article following further revisions from the writer.