Friday, June 1, 2018

It’s Still Tough to be Gay

It’s Still Tough to be Gay

by Ted Miller
(originally published June 2018 in Tumbleweird)

We’ve come a long way with LGBT rights in the last thirty years. Marriage equality is the law of the land and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in most of the country. LGBT personnel are allowed to serve openly in the military. Olympics athletes like Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy have become positive role models for millions. LGBT characters are portrayed positively in movies, television, and on stage with their sexual identity as only a part of their humanity. 

But, there are those who actively work to undo all that progress. So-called “religious freedom” bills seek to allow discrimination against LGBT in employment and business, placing religious belief over civil rights for our fellow citizens. Laws and regulations meant to ensure equal treatment are being attacked with an attempt to overturn them. The Department of Health and Human Services has cancelled policies aimed at LGBT Americans and the Department of Education has said it will no longer enforce Title IX protections for transgender students.

Hateful rhetoric and bullying of LGBT youth is often unchallenged and, in some cases, perpetrated by the authorities responsible for protecting young people. At North Bend High School in Oregon last month, the principal was fired and the resource officer reassigned after years of hate driven discriminatory action against LGBT students. In an essay to the ACLU, Liv Funk said that a pattern of harassment from students and teachers had been occurring for years. In one of the worst examples, Funk and her girlfriend were taunted with homophobic slurs and attacked with a skateboard. When she reported the incident to the school resource officer, she was told that being gay was a choice and that she’d better get used to the treatment. Then he told her homosexuality was against his religion and she was going to hell.

School is supposed to be a safe place, family life even more so. LGBTQ youth who don’t have supportive families and school environments have more difficulty in school and are at higher risk for bullying and harassment. Those who are not out to their families and friends face a constant fear of rejection. Often, they hear negative comments against LGBT people at home and among friends, making it even more difficult to be themselves.

But things are getting better. In our local schools, anti-bullying policies and support for LGBT students are being put into place. Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) and similar clubs are present in most of our middle and high schools. Local groups like PFLAG advocate for our LGBT youth and caring community members speak up at school boards, city councils, and community events. When protesters with an anti-gay message show up outside local high schools harassing students, a local group called the Love Army mobilizes to counter with messages of love and acceptance. 

The annual Pride Festival gets bigger every year, celebrating the LGBT community with positive activities for everyone. Many local businesses show their support for an open and inclusive community that values everyone. 

It’s still tough to be a teenager who identifies as LGBTQIA+. These young people face a daily challenge to maintain a sense of dignity and self-worth in a world that often tells them they are unworthy of love and respect just because of who they are. 

If you are one of those who feel marginalized and unable to be your true self in your family, your school, your church, or your workplace, there are people and organizations who will love and accept you for who you are. If you are struggling, don’t struggle alone. Look for friends who will accept you as you are and ask for help when you need it.

If you consider yourself an ally or advocate for the LGBT community, speak up when you see an act of bullying or hate. Help make our community a safe place for all. Remember the words of Desmond Tutu who said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”