A couple years ago, I had a falling out with a relative because I asked that they not use homophobic slurs around my younger siblings. This led to an argument with a number of family members where they insisted that kids weren’t ready for these conversations. I know my family members mean well and wouldn’t consider themselves homophobic or transphobic, but their resistance to acknowledging the existence of LGBTQIA people is concerning. It bothers me that adults, myself included, don’t give young people the benefit of the doubt as often as we should. I’ve certainly walked through the mall and had one of my sisters point out women kissing (or at least, people they assumed were women) or a man wearing makeup at Sephora. These moments are the type of beautiful teaching opportunities that more of us should use to help our young people understand LGBTQIA identities.
This summer, I had the pleasure of working at a summer camp for girls where we encouraged them to develop a community action plan. The seventh and eighth graders who I worked with mentioned over and over how they were concerned with the treatment of LGBTQIA people, and in digging deeper, a lot of them had never had conversations with an adult about LGBTQIA issues. My girls knew LGBTQIA people were mistreated, but were unaware of the intricacies and ways in which we are mistreated. One day, we had a conversation about violence toward queer and trans women of color, and later that day I heard them teasing a girl by calling her “gaygay.” I had to pull them aside and remind them that I was queer and how it hurt me to hear them doing that. They hadn’t realized that their words and actions were connected to the violence LGBTQIA people experience every day.
A number of girls chose to do their community action plans on LGBTQIA rights, and they surprised me with their interest in equity for LGBTQIA people. I know when I was their age, I was only interested in my hair and people I thought were cute. We walked around the community and the girls conducted interviews, which left them disappointed at the number of people who said, “I don’t have a problem with gay people, I just don’t support them.” My girls were frustrated that adults, who they were raised to respect for their wisdom, could disappoint them in this way.
Our young people are starving for knowledge and are more aware of social issues then we give them credit for. We can’t continue to ignore their inquiries. The more we do, the more we stand the risk of them perpetuating anti-LGBTQIA violence. I want my sisters and young people I work with to stand up for others and be compassionate. I want them to have the tools to support people who need it, and that starts with education and awareness.