With bright rainbow colors and exuberant smiles surrounding me, I looked across the seemingly endless mass of students marching—demanding that their identities be affirmed and accepted—with a feeling of sheer awe at where I was. This past weekend was my first ever opportunity to attend a Pride Parade as someone who was authentically and publicly proud of my identity… proud to be out; proud to be gay; proud to be queer; and proud to live openly and genuinely as who I am. Just over a year ago, I couldn’t even whisper it to myself, and now, I was joining a community of people demanding that our authentic, unique selves be seen, heard, and listened to.
Despite the sweat and exhaustion of that day, I was radiating with joy as I walked with my fellow classmates all across the city with unabashed pride. Yet, still, it struck me that being able to walk in an accepting community and school was a privilege I had to recognize. To this day, there are thousands of students across the country (and world) that feel marginalized, oppressed, and silenced within the classrooms of their schools. Both drawing from and contributing to this marginalization is a host of demeaning practices found within local, state, and national policies that deny queer students the opportunity for a safe and nurturing education.
Just this year, the Human Rights Campaign has labeled 2021 as one of the worst years in recent history for legislative attacks against LGBTQ individuals, particularly with regards to transgender students’ rights and LGBTQ-inclusive curricula. In fact, 43% of queer youth now say that they don’t have the same opportunity for a quality education as their peers do with 30 states having no explicit protections against bullying based on a student’s sexuality or gender identity. These statistics are staggering, yet they only provide a snapshot into the daily trauma and harms that support a culture where queer students don’t feel protected in our education system.
Since the conception of this system, discriminatory policies have tried to craft a narrative that only one type of privileged student deserves a quality education…policies like “No Promo Homo” laws that prohibit any positive discussions of LGBTQ history or issues in classrooms. Or, how 96% of queer students have no conversation on same-sex relationships in sexual education and health curricula. All of these policies (and many more unfortunate practices pervading our education system) perpetuate heteronormative structures that only serve to further marginalize us and hinder our wellbeing as a community. Schools must be changed to ensure all LGBTQ students, regardless of whether they are public with their sexuality or gender identity, feel supported by a school culture that actively values the lives of queer people.
As I walked with my friends and classmates across the Providence river with rainbow glitter shining around my eyes, I grinned, reflecting on all the progress we’ve made since the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Even personally, going to a Pride celebration like this was seemingly inconceivable to myself just over a year ago. Yet, just as apparent as this celebration was the recognition that we, as a community, have so much more to do to ensure our education system and society as a whole actively affirms and dignifies the identities of every queer individual. It’s finally time for every young person, regardless of whether it’s June, to be confident, secure, and proud in their identity—both in and outside of the classroom.
History has shown that we can’t depend on legislatures or the Supreme Court to advocate on behalf of us. The underlying structures in our education system of homophobia and transphobia will never change without all of us, queer people and allies alike, organizing together to make change. We must rally together to craft and execute policies that affirms, secures, and celebrates the unique identity of all students within our education system...and embody the true meaning of Pride. I can’t even begin to express how much I loved my first Pride celebration—let’s organize to ensure our schools actively work toward supporting this reality for every queer person across the country.