Why LGBT Representation Matters

Why LGBT Representation Matters

And how to get it right.
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For the first decade or so of my life, I didn’t realize that gay people existed.

I lived in a fairly conservative place, with a conservative family. Gay people were considered difficult to speak about, to say the least. My family isn’t virulently homophobic (they have gay friends), but to this day, LGBT issues are not considered child friendly in my house. I had no idea the things I felt had meaning, much less a name and identity attached. I had crushes on boys, so nothing was too amiss. Romantic feelings for girls were considered friendship, since the idea of two girls dating was impossible to comprehend (non-binary identities were still a very far-off idea as well).

Then I began a new book series called "Abarat." It’s a children’s fantasy series that I adored for the lush writing, gorgeous art, and fantastical setting. However, it stuck with me as my first brush with the LGBT community. One of the characters casually mentions his husband. I had to flip the page back over to make sure I read properly. I had – these two men were married and had a life together. The character talks about his husband throughout the series. When I read the author Clive Barker’s biography in the book, I discovered that he, too, had a male partner.

My mind was blown. Suddenly, I had this entire new area to explore. I had the clues, and I had the precedent. Though it would take a few more years for me to come into my identity as a bisexual person, this early experience showed me that people feel the way I do too. Seeing gay people was the first step to realizing what it all meant for myself.

When I finally did come out, my parents were not happy. They weren’t explosive, but they claim (to this day) that bisexuality isn’t real. Seeing couples on television who were like me – notably in "Glee," since that was one of the few shows on at the time with gay characters – was a life raft. I lived vicariously through them and their journeys to love, both with each other and themselves. For all the ridiculousness that show was, it was vital to me, as a young person, to see something of myself in the media.

At the risk of sounding elderly much too early, kids today have a wonderful selection of LGBT representation I would have never dreamed of. From Korra and Asami on “Legend of Korra” to Ruby and Sapphire on “Steven Universe,” children’s media is slowly redefining what is appropriate to include gay relationships. I am so grateful and overjoyed when I realize that current and future LGBT children will have a variety of wonderful representation to choose from.

However, we can do much better still. Many shows rely on queerbaiting rather than actual representation. “Queerbaiting” refers to a ploy by showrunners to create gay undertones in their shows without overtly confirming anything. There is never any intention to have gay characters in these cases; they tease gay fans who, desperate for something to see themselves in, will watch any way. It is a cruel practice. It tells fans that their stories are not worth telling, too risky to speak of, and that their love is shameful. When these fans are gay children, this can be especially damaging, but queerbaiting hurts LGBT people of all ages.

Another harmful trend is the “bury your gays” trope. This refers to the abnormally high death rate of gay characters – especially women loving women. This stems from a need to punish immorality, and being gay has a long history of being viewed as immoral. Writers may defend their choices as being solely for the art, but with the context of this trope and the history of real violence against gay people, this sets up a terrifying pattern for LGBT people: that your love is not just bad, it’s fundamentally unsafe.

Pop culture has much more sway than we like to admit. As a society, we want to believe we’re “above” the banal somehow. This banality, however, is a huge part of our lives. It shapes our perceptions of our lives and ourselves. For LGBT people, pop culture has been too cruel for too long. Even as it begins to soften, we still have a long way to go.

Cover Image Credit: Glee Wiki

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.
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Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

If you think about it, your roommate was there through all of your first college experiences. The first day of orientation, wishing you luck on the first days of classes, the first night out, etc. That is something that can never be changed. You will always look back and think, "I remember my first day of college with ____."

You were even each other's first real college friend.

You were even each other's first real college friend.

Months before move-in day, you were already planning out what freshman year would be like. Whether you previously knew each other, met on Facebook, or arranged to meet in person before making any decisions, you made your first real college friend during that process.

SEE ALSO: 18 Signs You're A Little Too Comfortable With Your Best Friends

The transition from high school to college is not easy, but somehow you made it out on the other side.

It is no secret that transitioning from high school to college is difficult. No matter how excited you were to get away from home, reality hit at some point. Although some people are better at adjusting than others, at the times when you were not, your roommate was there to listen. You helped each other out, and made it through together.

Late night talks were never more real.

Remember the first week when we stayed up talking until 2:00 a.m. every night? Late night talks will never be more real than they were freshman year. There was so much to plan for, figure out, and hope for. Your roommate talked, listened, laughed, and cried right there with you until one of you stopped responding because sleep took over.

You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

No matter what, you always bounced back to being inseparable.

Phases of not talking or seeing each other because of business and stress would come and go. Even though you physically grew apart, you did not grow apart as friends. When one of you was in a funk, as soon as it was over, you bounced right back. You and your freshman roommate were inseparable.

The "remember that one time, freshman year..." stories never end.

Looking back on freshman year together is one of my favorite times. There are so many stories you have made, which at the time seemed so small, that bring the biggest laughs today. You will always have those stories to share together.

SEE ALSO: 15 Things You Say To Your Roommates Before Going Out

The unspoken rule that no matter how far apart you grow, you are always there for each other.

It is sad to look back and realize everything that has changed since your freshman year days. You started college with a clean slate, and all you really had was each other. Even though you went separate ways, there is an unspoken rule that you are still always there for each other.

Your old dorm room is now filled with two freshmen trying to make it through their first year. They will never know all the memories that you made in that room, and how it used to be your home. You can only hope that they will have the relationship you had together to reflect on in the years to come.


Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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Dear White People, Muslims Are Not Your Enemy

Western countries should be embracing Muslim immigrants, not demonizing them.

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On Friday, March 15th 50 people were killed and 50 more injured in a mass shooting in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like many Americans, I woke up in the morning to see this tragedy all over the news and was lost for words. While mourning the loss of so many lives, I was also mad, enraged at the rise of white nationalism as a global political force with such deadly consequences. The shooter was a white supremacist who had published an anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan. Innocent people had died because of hate so powerful it led to such a heinous act of violence.

So I think it would be irresponsible of us to spend five minutes feeling sad about this shooting and then move on. 50 people died and their lives should be mourned and remembered, now and forever. Furthermore, we must understand this tragedy as the embodiment of a coherent far-right ideology which has inspired several violent attacks over the past few years. And while it may be just a fringe of people who are actually white supremacists, the prejudices of racism and Islamophobia are still disturbingly prevalent in Western society, and the cruel and hateful rhetoric used by right-wing politicians in our political discourse sows the seeds of bigotry which manifests itself in horrendous acts of violence.

In the shooter's manifesto, he discussed "white genocide", the idea that white people in Western countries, where they have historically dominated as the majority, are being "replaced" by non-white and Muslim immigrants. White nationalists think that immigration which leads to diverse, multiracial societies is an existential threat to the white race and antithetical to Western cultural values. While such a view clearly seems extremist and wrong to the vast majority of reasonable people, certain strands of this thought can be seen across the political sphere: Steve King's tweets, the chanting of the Charlottesville protestors, Jeanine Pirro's comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Trump's characterization of immigrants as invaders.

Trump said that he doesn't see white nationalism as a global problem, but of course he is part of the problem. This is the man who ran his 2016 presidential campaign by demonizing immigrants and stoking white fear of "the other". He called Mexicans "rapists", mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and he promised to ban Muslims from entering the country. His political strategy was to convince white people that people of color were to blame for all their problems. Having the President of the United States, the most powerful man on Earth, express racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic sentiments has done more to embolden white supremacists than anything else.

Considering all of this, I can't help but marvel at how much privilege it takes for white male conservatives to be able to "tolerate" Trump because he passes tax cuts. I will never understand how conservatives have embraced a man who is so morally bankrupt and explicitly hateful. There are things more important than economic growth than the GDP. There is the feeling of alienation and marginalization that the children of immigrants experience on a daily basis, the sense of otherness that we breathe in and out of our lungs over and over again, the way white people look at us when we walk into a room and they are afraid of us because they do not understand us.

We endure all the stares and the snide comments and the feeling of being foreign that we just can't rub it away no matter how hard we try. White people ask me where I am really from and they are shocked when I say Little Rock, Arkansas but I am not surprised at their reaction because I know that even though I was born here, even though I am a citizen of this country just like them, they will never see me as a real American. So go tell the young Muslim girl who is bullied in school for wearing a hijab and told to go back to where she came from, that under Trump the economy has been doing great.

The truth is Western countries are no longer the nations of white Christians if they ever were. The United States, the UK, Australia and yes New Zealand are multiracial, multiethnic and religiously diverse countries and this is the reality that white nationalists fear and seek to undermine at every turn. But we cannot let them. We cannot let any politicians define our national identities on the basis of race or religion. We must speak loudly and assert that these democracies, our countries, will be diverse and inclusive. We will not let small men divide us.

We are stronger than that. And we will overcome hate.

It will not be easy. Progress is never easy. Activists have been struggling for more than a century to fight against systematic racism in this country and there are still so many disparities between black people and white people. But this goal of building a country that respects the dignity of every individual, that provides equal opportunity for all to succeed, that welcomes the immigrant and the refugee knowing that they will make our countries better- this is a worthwhile fight.

In my hometown, there is a small but thriving Muslim population that I have had the honor and the privilege of getting to know. In high school, I joined an interfaith youth group that taught me so much about the Muslim faith. Some of my closest friends come from Muslim immigrant families. I have visited multiple mosques in Little Rock, and the faithful worshippers I've met there have shown me nothing but kindness and hospitality. I think some white people are afraid of Muslim immigrants because they have never really interacted with them or gotten to know them; they fear that which they do not understand.

But from my own experience, I know that Muslim immigrants are not our enemy. They are not radical jihadists seeking to impose Sharia law on us all; they are simply people who came to America for safety or for economic opportunity, who like every other immigrant, just want to achieve the American Dream, practice their faith in peace, live in America while not letting go of their culture, and give their kids a better life than the one they had. The Muslim immigrants I know are smart and hardworking and kind. They are doctors who save lives; they are lawyers who defend our rights. They are the very best of America.

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