By Ross W. von Metzke
Director, Communications and PR – It Gets Better Project
Parents of gay kids are often asked when they first knew or suspected.
When I was 2 years old, I put on a pair of my mother’s high heels, threw a purse over my shoulder, wrapped a blanket around my head for hair, and stomped down the hall of my childhood home.
“I’m going to the store to find a husband,” I declared.
“You mean a wife,” my mom answered.
“I mean a husband.”
My parents knew early.
There were other signs — some fun, like when I begged my mom and dad to take me to see Janet Jackson in concert. Others not so fun, like when I was thrown out of Boy Scouts because my troop leader felt I was “better suited for a different sort of organization.”
Kids sometimes called me gay (and other words for gay). Being bullied sucked. But through it all, my parents supported me and never once tried to make me more like other kids. They encouraged my creative spirit and enrolled me in theater classes. Acting and singing brought me out of my shell, and my teachers unlocked my ability to create, to imagine, and to write. They saved me by allowing me to be me, and they helped shape the person that I am today — a happily engaged, fiercely outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ youth who also happens to be the Director of Communications and PR for the It Gets Better Project.
LGBTQ+ youth today need the same support I had growing up. In fact, they might even need it more. Around the country, more than 390 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in the last two years aiming to strip kids of the ability to be their authentic selves. Bills that restrict inclusive curriculum, limit healthcare access for trans kids, book bans and “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which seek to prevent teachers and students from discussing anything related to LGBTQ+ people. These bills aren’t in every state, but they’re in Texas and Ohio and Florida and in more than two dozen other states across the country.
These bills send a message to LGBTQ+ young people no matter where they live — that they don’t belong, and there are folks out there who would like to erase LGBTQ+ people and their experiences from places of learning.
“Don’t Say Gay” bills have little to do with education. They’re about dehumanizing LGBTQ+ youth. They threaten the freedom all young people should have to be true to themselves without apology. And they have a negative impact on their mental health and well-being. It’s something the Youth Voices ambassadors we work with at the It Gets Better Project have shared with us, and something we see in comments and messages on our social media daily.
Regardless of what bills may or may not exists in our communities, we need to do a better job of supporting and encouraging queer kids. This is ESPECIALLY important during the holidays — a time that can feel incredibly isolating and lonely for some. Four out of ten youth say they live in a community that is not accepting of LGBTQ+ people — facing bullying and/or family rejection. And this year, kids who are already feeling unsupported at home have been served up a dogpile of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by way of headlines and bigoted lawmakers. It’s a lot for any person to handle, let alone someone in middle or high-school who is still trying to find their way and form their identity. They need to know they’re supported, seen, and loved. And that’s where you come in.
If you’re reading this column on itgetsbetter.org, chances are you’re already trying to be the ally queer kids need and deserve. But this year, we need you to really step it up. We don’t just need you to be an ally for YOUR kids. We need you to be an ally for ALL LGBTQ+ KIDS.
This may seem overwhelming — perhaps you’re wondering how you can show up and speak out for queer kids in a meaningful way. We shared some great tips last year in a column for Newsweek which is still every bit as relevant today. You can read them here and on itgetsbetter.org. Plus you can take the It Gets Better Project pledge and share it on social, committing to be an ally for LGBTQ+ youth, not just during Pride Month or the holidays, but all year long. You can even direct LGBTQ+ kids to this really cool mental health resource called imi — it’s self-guided, created for LGBTQ+ youth, by LGBTQ+ youth, and it’s a great tool for managing stress and anxiety.
But most importantly, you can show up and wear your allyship loud and proud. When you see something wrong, say something. When you hear bigoted comments attacking queer kids, speak up. When you sense a kid in your life may be lacking a support system at home, reach out. Make clear you have an open door policy — any time, no questions asked. Kids may not always acknowledge it, but they see and hear and remember everything. That includes unapologetic support.
If we’re going to effectively fight back against forces that are looking to strip LGBTQ+ youth of their right to exist, it’s going to take all of us. And that includes you.
Thanks for being up to the challenge.
– Explore itgetsbetter.org for more stories, educational resources and more designed to uplift, empower and connect LGBTQ+ youth. You can also find our content on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitch.