A Commitment to Our Collective Future
Published Thursday, 05-Aug-2010 in issue 1180
The back-to-school ads have begun, and school vacations will come to an end in the next month. And for too many of our youth, the return to school presents a real challenge.
School experiences for LGBTQ youth (and often for the children of LGBT parents) are both decidedly different than a decade ago, and much too often the same. The few available education statistics bear that out. LGBTQ youth fail to complete high school too often, fail to enter college too often and fail to complete the colleges they enter … too often.
The current, and over-simplified, popular fantasy is that life is so much easier for LGBTQ youth today. In fact, there are many ways this is so. We can, and should, celebrate those victories; they were hard won changes that many of us fought for.
But there are still too many ways that life is painfully challenging for our youth. Too often their families, their communities, their temples, their churches, their parents’ friends, their own friends, and their schools do not support them. In fact, one of the most telling statistics of all continues to be that despite the welcome changes, up to 40% of our nation’s homeless youth are LGBT.
Further, youth can have the most supportive parents in the world, but they still have to go to school. At school, some of what our LGBT youth (and again, youth with LGBT parents) face is as overt and visible as the bullying and hateful, and sometimes violent, actions we are all too familiar with.
In some cases, the less obvious — yet ever-present — atmosphere of discrimination, oppression and exclusion is even more insidious. Rarely, if ever, will an LGBT student see him/herself reflected in the books they must read, in the curriculum they must study, in the video clips or other media they will view or anywhere in the school environment. They won’t see their experiences, their thoughts, their struggles or their families represented. And sadly, this makes it even harder to see their potential or their hopes and dreams. Our youth are much more likely to see themselves online and occasionally on television than in the places that are supposed to educate them.
Our San Diego LGBT community has a tradition of attempting to care for, support and provide for our youth. We have provided safe spaces, supportive housing, scholarship funds, counseling and encouragement. We have attempted to send a message that they belong and can have a bright future. The San Diego LGBT Community Center, along with several other partner organizations, has done some really important work in our schools. But much more remains to be done, and our youth are waiting for us to do it. They need us to do it.
Gay-straight student alliances are becoming more common and, thankfully, groups such as GLSEN have been making inroads, even in non-urban areas that traditionally have offered little support for the LGBT community. Discussions of safe schools for students now include LGBT students, and in some cases, the children of LGBT parents. And still we have more to do.
We have more to do because not all schools have GSAs. We have more to do because not all schools are having the discussion about safe schools. We have more to do because, even here in San Diego, a student needed the intervention of the ACLU to give a report about the life of Harvey Milk.
Our youth need us to pay attention to school policies, to our school boards, to school administration and teachers. We may not all be parents or grandparents or teachers or principals, but we were all kids once, and for too many of us, school was an incredibly tough and painful place to be. Our work in schools, and for youth, is nothing less than an investment in them, and in our own collective future.
When Bishop Gene Robinson was in town, he made a great comment about how we can be very good at fishing drowning people out of the river, but at some point we have to stop and ask who is throwing them in. As a community, we’re getting much better at plucking our drowning kids out of the river, but we have real work to do in order to change the ways our schools help throw them in.