As Pride Month has come and gone, it’s important that we reflect and celebrate the amazing progress that has been made, while remembering the ongoing fight for true LGBTQ equality, especially within our education system. This past Pride, the LGBTQ community and allies across the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In June, it was reported that across all levels of political offices, there are now a record number of LGBTQ candidates. And, the US Supreme Court finally affirmed that no worker should ever be discriminated against or fired for their sexuality or gender identity. We’ve truly made some remarkable strides this past June, but, given Pride Month is over, what happens now? The answer: we keep up the fight.
Our collective mission for LGBTQ equality can not and should not be confined to one month of celebration and activism. Rather, we must all continually place this issue as not only a priority, but one that we are willing to invest our time and energy into. Often, I see amazing strides for the LGBTQ community in areas like employment and marriage equality. Yet, our education system continues to be an area in which many LGBTQ students are not affirmed as equal, dignified citizens. As a gay student myself, I relate to the struggles that a young, queer person undergoes when considering being open with their identity, especially within their school. And, when there are still many policies that actively fight against the equal status of students based on their race or socioeconomic status, it’s clear that this issue is one that intersects across identities.
In 30 states, there are no protections against bullying and discrimination for LGBTQ students, and several actually have laws banning teachers from even discussing these issues within schools, making it difficult for gay individuals to feel comfortable finding adult allies. 70% of LGBTQ students say they have been bullied in school. Under the current administration, the Department of Education has rescinded LGBTQ protections for students, leading to nearly ⅔ of transgender and gender non-conforming students to avoid using the bathroom while in school. This is simply inhumane. And, across the country, the vast majority of sex education classes within schools neglect to provide LGBTQ students with the information and preparation they deserve. These are just a few areas in which progress must be made, but there is unfortunately much more to be done before schools can truly serve as safe, inclusive spaces for all students, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.
Schools, in my opinion, should be environments that encourage all students to explore their identities without fear of retribution or harassment. So, when there are inherent policies in place that deny this right to LGBTQ students, it indicates an overarching view that our education system was not and is still not built to protect us all and perpetuates a narrative for many marginalized groups that they are not welcome for who they are. Furthermore, education is one of the most important components of a person’s development in character and values. By failing to provide an inclusive learning environment for all queer students, our education system embeds the idea that we do not deserve equal protection. The only means by which we can end this cycle of devaluing the LGBTQ community is by placing policies in all states and all schools that actively progress the rights of queer students as fully equal to their peers.
The first step in this process is to ensure that education administrators and legislators understand that, according to data, LGBTQ students continue to be a vulnerable community within schools. Through this understanding, we can begin to craft policies, like anti-discrimination laws, equitable sex education, and protections for transgender students, that begin to fulfill the true mission of education. Even more so, you can be an ally in this fight. Go to your local School Board or State Legislature to advocate for proper protections within every school. Ensure that you and your peers are voting for elected officials that fully believe in policies that progress the rights of every queer student. No longer can LGBTQ rights, especially among students in our education system, be seen as a political issue; LGBTQ rights are human rights. It’s time that our education system embraces this value and works to create a safe, inclusive space where all students, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, can learn and thrive.