No matter if you're out and proud, terrified of expressing your sexuality, or somewhere in between, LGBTQIA+ marginalization is real. I feel the need to open with stating the fact that there are real, everyday challenges that come along with being a member of this community because a lot of people out there will tell you to calm down. I know this because I've been told on several occasions that homophobia doesn't exist anymore. I've been told that unless I'm experiencing active hatred that I should just let things go. As a queer woman just recently out to friends and family, I feel the subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) of this kind of marginalization. I am here to say to any and all members of the LGBTQIA+ community reading this: your experience is valid and you are not alone. The fact that I have to say that is ridiculous, but unfortunately necessary.
I would like to take the opportunity to put some of my experiences out there so that others are aware of the things happening in the daily lives of queer folks. I would like to address some of my personal experiences to start conversations. Further, I think it's necessary that straight allies know about some of the ways that they can interrogate their heterosexual privilege.
First, the resources for LGBTQIA+ youth in public schools aren't accessible, or more accurately: nonexistent. I'm grateful for my K-12 education, and I've had mostly positive experiences with my teachers. Having said that, I didn't feel comfortable being open about my sexuality throughout any of my schooling. I didn't feel like there were effective resources and support systems at my disposal. Even in my theater and music programs, where acceptance for LGBTQIA+ youth is typically higher, I didn't feel comfortable. What we currently do for queer students isn't enough. There aren't any comprehensive LGBTQIA+ sexual health programs (heck, there aren't even comprehensive sexual health programs for heterosexual students). Furthermore, there wasn't any outreach from public school counseling services. There wasn't even contact information regarding any outside community resources.
Second, mental illness is prevalent among LGBTQIA+ youth. Anyone who knows me knows how passionately I feel about accessible mental health services and widespread education about psychopathology. It's important to know that, due to intolerance from friends, family, educators, community members, and society at large, LGBTQIA+ folks deeply internalize homophobic rhetoric. They come to believe the horrible things that are said about them. I know this, because I've been there, and I still struggle to distance myself from it despite the counseling, the medication, the social support from friends, etc.
Third, LGBTQIA+ representation in popular media is laughable. Queer characters are never main characters. Their plot lines limit the scope of their humanity, often limiting their story to their struggle with their sexual identity. This is obviously important, but it makes it look like that's all queer people ever think about. Queer characters are almost always side plots that soon become irrelevant. They often get killed off, or their partners get killed off, or they're pathologized. I've been grasping at straws to find characters to relate to. You don't think about how necessary it is to grow up seeing people like you in TV shows, movies, books, and other sources of media until you're scrambling to find anything that doesn't reduce and distort your identity.
Fourth, I have to be constantly aware of how my sexuality is going to affect my future. I think about how my relationships might be invalidated while my brother's relationships are celebrated. I have to be constantly aware of my surroundings, quickly analyzing if a space is going to be unsafe. I have to think about how my career could be in jeopardy. Think about this for a second. I've worked my ASS off for 19 years to get scholarships and maintain my GPA. I'm respectful, intelligent, open-minded, hard-working, and goal-oriented. I plan on receiving my bachelor's degree. I want to go to graduate school. I'm doing all that I can to be responsible and proactive about my future. I'm passionate and would be a great addition to the professional world. To think that everything I've worked toward might be rejected because I'm bisexual and someone doesn't like that? It can make everything feel hopeless.
I've come so far and still have so much to conquer. I have so much more to learn about myself and the people with whom I choose to fill my life. I recognize that my encounters with LGBTQIA+ marginalization exist on a spectrum. While some are comparable to others', there are many things I'll never have to face due to my white, cisgender privilege. I work to understand the oppression that queer people of color face. It's our duty to continue educating ourselves on these issues.
Queer people, you are resilient and powerful. You deserve the respect you're consistently denied. Keep fighting.