How can one foster an optimal support system when someone comes out as part of the LGBTQ+ community?
The Bay Area is a relatively liberal region of the USA. As a result, there tends to be many people who proudly identify as LGBTQ+. However, there is still a widespread misuse of gender terminology as well as an inability to be an effective ally and support system. A Stanford University study proposed that a lack of education involving gender literacy heavily contributes to misuse of terminology. In addition, it is commonplace to assume the pronouns of others rather than asking for their own which can prevent a gender fluid being to feel unsupported when they are called “he/she” even if they prefer “they.” Furthermore, only now are gender neutral restrooms starting to become more acceptable which can spark conversations about gender as well as raise awareness about gender inequality.
Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development goals is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” I want to advance that goal by creating a project that offers suggestions to assist in creating support systems for all different gender identities and expressions. I will utilize leaders and members of the Spectrum/Rainbow club at my school to attempt to gather a better understanding of the experience of an LGBTQ+ student as my school by asking questions like “what support do you wish you had during your coming out experience?” Additionally, the counselors and teachers are my school who have proven to be great allies could provide further guidance on tips on building a support system. By incorporating real-life experiences into my project, I hope to catalyze true change and advance the UN’s goal 5.
Currently, self-identifying as LGBTQ+ in schools, opens students to “harassment, homophobic abuse, and hierarchy of masculinities” (Kearns, 2014). Many are victimized by homophobic remarks like “faggot, dyke, and that’s so gay” (Bailey, 2005). The theories of gender binary and gender essentialism remain prevalent in schools. Gender binary is the classification of gender into two distinct forms of masculine and feminine. Gender essentialism is the idea that there are fixed, innate qualities in women and men that lead them to conform to stereotypes about their gender (Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, From Our Course).
The primary reason that these two theories are enhanced in school is because there is minimal discussion of other gender theories. Even before babies are born, there gender is assumed through blue and pink toys, clothing, and rooms. Rarely, is there discussion of the concept of “gender-fluid” or any acknowledgement of de-constructing gender (Kearns, 2014). The theories of a gender binary and gender essentialism are ingrained globally, so I can understand the pressure to conform, however, I think that in a relatively more open-minded country like the United States, social progress can be made. Without adequately teaching people how to evolve their beliefs, the global community will continue to adhere to social norms.
In my research, I focused on finding tips to support those trying to become better allies to the LGBTQ+ community because oftentimes those trying to help can feel unsupported themselves. There is a wide breadth of information on the internet, and different sources attempt to target different audiences. For instance, Susan Woolley in the journal Counterpoints discusses the optimal way that the agenda of a gender alliance club in school can be structured in order for peers to best support each other. In contrast, the Human Rights Campaign’s website has information aimed at parents whose children have recently come out. While there is much information common across these two groups, there are nuances that would be important for each group to personally learn. Overall, more properly targeted education will help make our world a more inclusive environment for everyone to feel safe to freely express themselves however they please.
To begin my project, I wanted to reach out to the LGBTQ+ club at my school called Spectrum or Rainbow club. I interviewed many members to understand ways in which they did and did not feel supported by peers, family, and the local community. I am very thankful that they all agreed to speak with me about their personal experiences and share their stories. Here are a few selfies from my interviews:
Interviewing Alexa was a great experience because it allowed me the opportunity to get to know another classmate as well as giving me her deep personal reflection on coming out. As someone who has always had many female friends and few male friends, Alexa was worried that girls may become scared to hug her or not have sleepovers or not change in the locker rooms with her. But, she quickly realized that her friends loved and supported her regardless of her sexual orientation. To her, the best way one could be an ally is treating her the same while not shying away from her gayness. For instance, her friends should “allow her to talk about liking girls as well as asking about her crushes as if they were guys.”
Samantha had similar experiences to Alexa (interview #1) when coming out as bisexual. She said that being accepting was her number one criteria in figuring out whether she could continue being friends with a person. To her, an optimal response to her coming out would be “thank you for telling me, *insert hug*, and move on.” Treating her any different would have been a big problem. She loved that her friends never made any assumptions about her after she came out like “this is a phase” or anything of the sort. Instead, they celebrated her for who she is.
Emma said that her parents were extremely accepting when she came out because their reaction was one of unsurprise. In addition, many friends were also unsurprised as she had never been one to have male crushes or fanboy overall. She said that sharing her identity with new people is no longer scary because everyone she truly cares about has already accepted her for who she is. She referred to the movie “Love Simon” where there is a scene of a “normal” teenager coming out to their parents as heterosexual; the parents have confused looks on their faces resembling “why are you telling me this…nothing is new.” That’s how she hopes all reactions to be.
Olivia has had a very different experience than everyone else I interviewed. She has so far come out to 15 close friends and teachers, but still not to her parents. Olivia said that she is “scared of [her parent’s] reaction as sometimes they make homophobic comments at the dinner table.” She says that she does not blame them as many of their beliefs stem from deeply ingrained Mexican cultural beliefs. When her parents grew up in Mexico, different gender identities were and are still not widely accepted. She wishes that they would give her a hug and treat her the same, but does not think that would actually happen. I am humbled that Olivia chose to share her story with me as I could tell that it was difficult for her to talk about, and I hope that one day she is able to fully express herself around her parents regarding her sexuality.
Based on all of the interviews I conducted as well as the online research I did, using scholarly articles and the human rights foundation as sources, I was able to synthesize my knowledge into a video about tips & tricks for anyone to become the best ally possible. Here is my video:
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Try to incorporate more gender fluid language into your daily vocabulary.
- When someone comes out, please be positive and excited for them. Thank them for their openness. If you feel comfortable, give them a hug 🙂
- Listen to others before passing judgement.
Do you practice these skills already? If so, congratulations! You are already on the right path to being the best ally possible!
Call To Action
On Instagram, there are many celebrities, influencers, and accounts to follow to increase one’s knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community as well as how to be an ally:
Social Media Influencers/Models:
- @taylorswift (She just made a huge donation for LGBTQ+ rights!)
- @macklemore (If you haven’t already heard it, please go listen to the song “Same Love.”)
- @badgalriri (Through her beauty line Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, she explicitly tweets that trans women (or black women in general) should NOT be used as a “convenient marketing tool.” They are simply women, period.)
Overall Queer Power:
- Queer Eye TV Show
I challenge you all to go and follow one of these sources. Education is the #1 step to evolving culture.