We call it Pride month. In big and small cities across the country, the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer (LGBTQ) communities gather to celebrate what it means to be LGBTQ in a straight world. It’s a meaningful symbolic event that began after the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan where LGBTQ people fought back against police brutality. Stonewall was a tipping point for the LGBTQ liberation movement.
Pride is a celebration of identity and love – it’s a time to spread hope that things will continue to get better. It is a time to be out and proud in the streets. Coming out can be very scary, and is one of the significant challenges faced by all LGBTQ people, but especially LGBTQ youth. When a teenager comes out, they face the risk of bullying and harassment at school and in the wider community in addition to the very real risk of family rejection, getting kicked out of their house, and becoming homeless. The amount of courage it takes for a young person to stand proud in their clear or emerging identity with unknown consequences is truly remarkable.
Young people continue to come out despite pressure to stay closeted. There is a long history of LGBTQ people being encouraged to hide their identity by people they love to “protect them.” Recent studies, including one by University of Arizona researcher Stephen Russell, shows that requiring adolescents to keep their LGBTQ identities secret is associated with depression, suicidal behavior, illegal drug use and risk for HIV among other things. Every day, LGBTQ youth face prejudice in schools, rejection in their homes, and danger in the streets. When LGBTQ youth learn about and disclose their LGBTQ identity to others, it actually works as a protective factor against these risks and promotes self-esteem and overall health.
At The Diversity Center’s youth program, we see the courage and resiliency of LGBTQ middle and high school students every day. Thanks to generous funders, like The California Endowment, we are able to provide support and leadership development to local youth by supporting Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) on school campus’, a safe, fun, and welcoming space through our three weekly LGBTQ youth groups and leadership opportunities to plan our many events, including our annual CampOUT. For many local youth, this camping trip is far more than just a fun camping trip, one transgender eighth grader who had experienced a significant amount of bullying said “This is the only place I have ever felt I can be 100% who I am. Can I stay here forever? I never want to leave.”
As the LGBTQ movement we have come incredibly far, but the struggles that LGBTQ young people still experience is testament to how far we still have to go.
When you look on at the Pride parade, remember that Pride is the celebration of living authentically, having the right to love whoever we want and be who we truly are. That is always worth celebrating.