The It Gets Better Project executive director Brian Wenke and Youth Voices ambassador Zach Koung talked to USA Today’s Alia Wong about book bans in school libraries and what it means for LGBTQ+ students. Read an excerpt of their discussion below then continue on to the full story.

Growing up in the Baltimore area, Zach Koung didn’t have many opportunities to learn about the gay-rights movement, or to read books featuring queer characters and love stories. Such topics and learning materials weren’t a part of his schools’ curricula. Koung became depressed as a teen – and, in retrospect, he’s sure that lack of exposure had something to do with it. 

“It was so emotionally draining to know who I was inside yet not see that reflected in the books we read,” said Koung, 18, now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. Education is supposed to be about “teaching the facts, teaching science, teaching what’s right, and it made me think something was wrong with me.” 

“There was a lot of unlearning that I had to do as a result of that,” said Koung, who serves as a youth leader with the It Gets Better Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. Part of that unlearning involved a successful run for his local school board. In that role, he pushed for his district’s adoption of an LGTBQ+ studies course, whose development he’s now helping to steer. 

Koung is hopeful: That initiative is part of a national trend, driven partly by youth activists, to make curriculum more inclusive. But he’s also deeply concerned about threats to that progress – including a simultaneous trend that’s picked up steam in recent months.

Read the full story from USA Today.