Bill Konigsberg, an author and writer for the Huffington Post, has recently embarked on a journey through the South and Midwest to initiate a discussion with and about the LGBTQ youth and community. He is representing The Trevor Project in this Awareness Tour in order to share his coming out story. He offers words of encouragement to anyone in the LGBTQ community and informs people about the resources available through The Trevor Project.
In his blog post for The Huffington Post, Konigsberg shares his story about being denied permission to speak at many public high schools in the area. He then retells the events at the first school he visited. When he was invited to speak at South Houston High School, he was asked by a librarian to perhaps ‘tone down’ his talk and to not directly mention LGBTQ issues–the central topic of his talk–so as to not offend any students’ parents and cause a fuss for the school.
Konigsberg’s story comes as quite a shock and reminds us that there is still a lot of ground to cover in order to educate Americans about the enormous hurdles those who identify as LGBTQ face to be accepted. Although more southern states are taking steps to recognize the community, certain institutions continue to do the bare minimum to merely appear to be pro-LGBTQ. However, many of these places in America still have a lot of trouble accepting and normalizing the community. Konigsberg holds out hope that there are people in this part of the country who are open to discussing these social issues, and continues on through the South and Midwest attempting to help bridge gaps for the repressed LGBTQ communities there.
Following the SCOTUS decision to legalize marriage equality, most States have jumped on board the “gay train”. There is now a widespread claim throughout the States that there’s an open dialogue happening regarding the LGBTQ community and equal rights. This is true to an extent. Pride parades grow in attendance and scale every year, more and more countries are legalizing marriage equality, and rainbow-ed profile pictures on Facebook continue to reign. Where the progress is lagging is in the most conservative areas: the South and the Midwest. Representatives from these States are generally either radically against marriage equality or claim a mild tolerance for it. Many Americans from these states use religion and Christianity as the backbone for their argument against gay marriage. Be that as it may, there is a constitutional separation of church and state for a reason. The personal beliefs and values of a religious group are supposed to be left out of matters of government and the constitution. With the advancement of certain social issues like LGBTQ rights, many religious groups have become more vocal about their opinions, even though it technically it shouldn’t matter. One of the purposes of separation between church and state is to provide everyone with religious freedom. This is supposed to keep legislation free of any one particular religion.
One of the most challenging yet crucial groups for LGBTQ awareness to reach in the South and Midwest is elementary and high school aged kids. Although many public schools allow religious doctrine in schools, they are often times uncomfortable openly discussing the LGBTQ issues. Texas has the second-highest LGBTQ adult population in the U.S., second only to California, which is significant. High school is an awkward time for even the most fortunate cisgendered people, but LGBTQ students are the most bullied group of public school students. The homelessness rate of LGBTQ youth is anywhere from 20-40%. A refusal to accept that people simply are who they are and have very little choice in the matter has led too many LGBTQ youth to suicide.
Southern and Midwestern states are most likely feeling pressures from both sides of the spectrum: to serve the interests of conservatives while still appearing to participate in the advancements in LGBTQ rights that much of the country is involved in. Inviting speakers like Bill Konigsberg is a first step, but the gesture is empty without backing it up with a supportive and safe environment for young adults.
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