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Some people might say that 2021 is the best time for a young person to be LGBT+.
We live in a time where support for the LGBT+ community is not only louder, but more tangible in its impact than ever before. Many of us have the privilege of real, not theoretical, legislative and social change – but there are pitfalls, too.
Communication technologies have opened up avenues for support and education that generations before us could never have imagined, but they have also opened the door to a whole host of anti-LGBT+ hate and enabled the spread of ideologies that make it hard for young LGBT+ people such as myself to exist today.
The other hard part is figuring out that you’re LGBT+ in the first place. My rocky path towards realising I was not only transgender, but also a gay man, was one paved with self-doubt and hatred, fuelled by the world around me.
Horror stories of kids my age being kicked out of their homes; reports concerning the murder of trans women around the world; issues with human rights violations in countries not so far away – these, combined with my own experiences of hate crime, gave rise to a storm that followed me around, and closeted and displaced me from communities I wanted to participate in.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, but was felt by us in a particularly acute and measurable way. Research carried out by Just Like Us has found that LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to be lonely and worrying daily about their mental health during the pandemic.
I know that I’ve relied on other LGBT+ people in my life for support during the pandemic, be they youth support groups for gay teenagers, or media with positive representation such as the film Pride and the TV series Glee.
I believe that the best way of helping LGBT+ young people is to use schools as a place of empowerment. Participating in the Leaders in Diversity group at my school – an initiative that was rebranded and revamped with help from our most vocally supportive teachers – has enabled me to help other students like me, and consolidate the pain I’ve associated with my own experiences of coming out.
Being one of the first trans students to come out at my school meant that, for all of the positive aspects of my school’s help, there were still teething issues with other students. Allowing myself to help kids going through what I went through has been validating for my own experiences, while also giving kids access to help I didn’t have at their age.
Events such as School Diversity Week and LGBT History Month increase the visibility of LGBT+ role models like me and my friends within schools, among students and teachers alike, and show that there’s a place for us in the world.
In 2021, creating such spaces for young people like me is increasingly less about education, and more about empowerment. In a world that makes it easier for us to hide who we are, we need spaces where we can be whoever and whatever we want to be, without consequence or judgement.
Schools don’t always get it 100% right, but the act of making that space, of indirectly saying to LGBT+ students that there’s a place for them both within their own community and the world around them – that not only empowers us, but truly saves lives.
Showing support for LGBT+ students, even without full understanding of the issues they face, and being willing to learn and adapt to their needs, will help create the support and environments we need to thrive.
I’m glad that it’s easier to be an LGBT+ young person in 2021 than ever before – but it’s still not easy. With schools and students working together, we can create better environments for these students – ones that at many schools barely exist at all – and empower LGBT+ people as never before.
Please take part in School Diversity Week on 21st to 25th June, and show the young people at your school that it’s okay to be LGBT+. You can sign up to take part, and receive some free resources, at justlikeus.org.
Morgan Rush (he/him) is a sixth form school pupil in Surrey
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