Have you ever been scared of someone hating you just because of who you are based on misunderstandings - and one of those people was yourself?
If you answered yes to this question, you have survived those terrifying situations due to a strong personal resolve and a coalition of support in your life. Consequently, you have an obligation to protect the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ* (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth in your community and beyond by supplying yourself as a resource to a young person struggling to find and accept themselves in the face of severe oppression.
By my freshman year, I had come out at school to provide a source of help and understanding for my many questioning peers. My lifelong mentorship to LGBTQ* kids officially commenced as I joined my school’s fledgling Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and extended my online research to the jaw-dropping realm of GLSEN. Entering into sophomore year, I had become GSA president and engaged heavily with GLSEN, which empowered me to change the worlds of queer students everywhere around me.
However, my advocacy was thrown into a completely new stream when I was gaily (excuse the pun) approached by the youth group at my Unitarian Universalist church. In that little congregation within a congregation, I was informed by an excitable ally that a 13-year-old boy had bravely shared with the religious education class that he is gay, and they wanted to introduce the two of us so that he could ask any questions and receive general guidance from a kid who also came out at 13.
That boy, BW, is one of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege to meet. While his immediate family was largely accepting of his sexual orientation, his neighbors were not nearly as kind or open-minded. It turns out that BW has been homeschooled for most of his education, due directly to the fact that he has been harassed permanently in public school regarding his outward gender expression and polite displays of feminine attributes since the early elementary years.
But BW’s bullying at school didn’t stop once he relocated to home. The students with whom he was homeschooled taunted and harassed him extensively for his sexual orientation and constantly evoked a few lines of the Bible to justify their perspective without ever opening their minds to the loving and accepting notions expressed by Jesus himself. His peers and their parents mercilessly treated him with degradation and verbal abuse, going so far as to say that he did not deserve to live.” As a reminder, BW is 13. So are these kids.
Thankfully, when BW reached out, he had a supportive family and a very supportive church community to latch onto (the church holds PFLAG meetings, marriage equality rallies, and is heavily populated by LGBTQ* people). When BW reached out, he had someone willing to care enough to offer their time and experience to a confused young boy. When BW reached out, he needed a lifeline - and he got one. He didn’t need much; barely a few hours of conversation, illumination, and a small donation of my now unnecessary teen queer lit. I have seen him grow so much since I have had the privilege of intervening in his life, blooming into an outgoing, charismatic personality because he is no longer afraid of who he is. I would never trade our friendship.
If I - a high schooler with limited free time - can make the effort to make a positive difference in someone's life, so can you. If you cannot mentor a queer youth, be ready and willing to refer them to someone who is or an organization with resources that can help them survive in a world frequently hostile to LGBTQ* people. Make the difference in someone’s life because someone made the difference in yours.
Liam Arne is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.