I admit it. I had no idea. Besides, no one ever talked about sexual preferences when I was growing up. As kids, we poked at each other. At first, the idea was to lose your virginity. There was an entire posture that went with this. There was a level of popularity that coincided with who you are and what you look like. Meanwhile, there were kids that struggled with who they were. They struggled to talk about their true selves because they were afraid. They had fears of judgment or worse, there were the fears of banishment or to be ostracized and demonized. So therefore, don’t ask, don’t tell. Right?
I admit that my generation’s approach towards the gay community was certainly different from todays. In fact, I hear from parents about their children coming out at younger ages. I think about this and wonder what this looks like in the classrooms and on the playground. I think about my generation and those who grew up with shame because of their preferences. Then, I think about the suicide attempts, the self-harm and self-hatred because of a life that seemed so shamefully different. Meanwhile, there is nothing shameful about love. There is nothing harmful about desire and there is no reason why anyone should have to hide themselves or their identity.
But yet, judgment still exists. Suicide and mental health challenges persist. And why? The answer is simple. No one ever asks to be the pariah. No one wants to be rejected because of who they are or what they look like. No one deserves to be challenged, abused, harassed or discriminated against because of their gender or personal identity.
I admit that my understanding needs to be updated. The need for education and awareness is necessary. However, due to conflicts of opinions and personal beliefs, our community struggles with this topic of education.
I have never been a parent of a child that was born in the wrong body. I can not say that I understand the pain or the anguish that coincides with this. I understand the judgments that I was raised with. I also understand the flock mentality and the cultural, social and personal biases. However, I think about the people I’ve met in my life. I think about the soul’s right to be and breathe, to love, laugh, learn and the personal right towards life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I think of these things and wonder about the kids who are tortured by their preferences. I am thinking about a 13 year-old girl that hung herself after school because she identified differently from the other girls in class.
I am thinking about this month, which is Pride Month in the United States. Each year, the month of June, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community bond together to celebrate love, diversity, inclusion and self-pride. Each year, there are marches and parades to celebrate that love is love and that people are people. Additionally, each year there are those who oppose.
This is not only a month of diversity but a celebration of the history of the LBGTQ+ community. However, with all the advancements of our society, nevertheless, the struggles within the community still call for attention.
This month notes the need to overcome adversity. This points out the discrimination in the workplace and to drive home the need to approach equity and inclusion. There is research that suggests openly gay applicants are significantly less likely to receive job interviews. Is this fair?
Pride month points out the need to update thinking and improve our culture. For example, more than 50% of LBGTQ+ workers hide their identity to avoid feeling unwelcome or unwanted in the workplace. Additionally, worries of social stigma, harassment, prejudice, rejection and exclusion are all causes for mental and emotional concerns. Pride month is not only a month of acceptance and tolerance, this month has been set aside to promote freedom to be, think, love, laugh and live exactly as you are.
Some of the unaddressed facts can no longer go without mention. There are facts such as the higher rate of depression within the community. According to the American Psychiatric Association, suicide rates are four times greater for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth than heterosexual youth. This is additionally so in the transgender community with an even higher rate, citing that 30.8% of transgender have considered committing suicide. These statistics are undoubtedly connected with shame and exclusionary cultures.
It is important to point out that being LBGTQ+ is not a mental health disorder. According to mental health disparities on the American Psychiatric Association’s webpage, “All major professional mental health organizations have affirmed that homosexuality is NOT a mental disorder. Being transgender or gender variant is NOT a mental illness and does not imply any impairment in judgment, stability, reliability or general social or vocational capabilities.” Although these points have been professionally studied; unfortunately, there are stigmas, social and cultural biases that resist these studies.
This month we celebrate the ability for a community to overcome adversity. We celebrate that whether we are LBGTQ+ or otherwise, together, we can work, grow, and more importantly, we can live together without shaming each other. After all, we’re all born equal.
I used to be a bully. I used to say mean things. For this, I am truly sorry. I was ignorant. Then again, I never knew what love was. I never new what it meant to be brave enough to stand away from the flock; to be one’s true self or to openly express myself. I never dared to do anything this brave. I was never a parent of a child who was so bullied for their preferences that they decided to end their own life.
As a matter of fact, I am thinking about some of the teens who I’ve recently met. I think about them and their bravery to stand out as who they are, without shame or self-hatred. I honor them. I honor them as they have honored me by allowing me to update my understanding. Love is love. People are people and from the mouth of babes, the best lessons are learned.
Be you . . .
Thanks for the lesson.