Keeping It Real: The Reality of Growing Up LGBTQIA+ Today

By : Nathan Bruemmer
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What’s it like growing up LGBTQIA+ in 2018? It depends on whom you ask and where you live. The general perception from generation to generation is that youth have it better, but for this generation of LGBTQIA+ youth, even before the change in administration, it is a much more complicated answer.

The progress of social equality has been impressive over the last decade or two. Today we live in country with marriage equality, more resources, more support and fewer challenges than in the past. However, not all Florida communities have embraced this progress. Even communities with a progressive citizenry may not have progressive city councils, county commissions, school boards or school board policies. 

As a Florida native, I have lived and worked in several counties in Florida. I have experienced diverse policies and attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community throughout my life. When I was a student in the public school system in Florida, I was outed, I was bullied and I was ostracized. No teacher stood up for me. My principal encouraged me to leave his school because I was “causing the problem.” I later worked as a public schoolteacher and experienced life before Gay Straight Alliances (GSA’s) and before a teacher could even consider being out to their students. I have vocally and publicly advocated against this ideology since the late 1990s. Recently, I accepted a position as the Executive Director of ALSO Youth in Sarasota, one of the few LGBTQIA+ youth community centers in the state of Florida. I took this position thinking I understood the issues facing our youth. I was mistaken.

When I started advocating in the 1990s, because of my experiences, I wanted to become a super advocate. I researched. I read. I knew that local politicians needed more information before they would change policies. I wanted to be armed with the latest statistics for bullying, anxiety and depression, impacts on educational outcomes and the horrific rates of suicide. When I met with folks who didn’t think our kids mattered, my research prepared me to go to battle and advocate otherwise. I battled a lot over the last 20 years and I thought I understood the impact of discrimination.

It certainly isn’t like it used to be. We have come so far. Many youth have wonderful experiences with amazingly supportive families. Surely, some youth still need us to advocate, but generally we are in a much better place – right? No. I was mistaken.

I started at ALSO Youth in August under an administration with a clear, loud and repeated message: this administration does not have the back of our LGBTQIA+ youth. Policies have been rolled back from the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and many others. Our kids are savvy and they know what this means.

I didn’t understand the impact of these policy changes. Not really. Not until I took this job. Not until I sat with and listened to youth recount stories of abuse and discrimination every single week. Not until I saw their faces, saw their tears and realized these are only the stories I hear. I can’t share with you specifics due to confidentiality, but I can tell you our kids are being bullied and confronting physical and verbal violence in Florida schools on a daily basis.

What I have learned in a few short months is that there is still a lot of work to do across our state. I plan to explore the reality of growing up LGBTQIA+ in 2018 in future columns, but for now I share with you some enduring truths:

Resources matter. Our youth need and want safe spaces. Our youth need compassionate and knowledgeable adults who are their doctors, teachers, counselors, coaches and more.

Visibility matters. Our youth need to see adults like them reflected in society, in books, in movies and in the stories adults share.

Coming out can still be hard and scary.  On average, our youth are coming out earlier. Rejection by families and the community has serious impacts, conversion therapy is still allowed in some jurisdictions and homelessness can sometimes result.

The Internet is both helpful and harmful. Our youth can find so many amazing resources online, but online bullying is a far more significant issue that school districts are just starting to address because it impacts far more on campus than initially realized.

Good policies can change lives. Great policies can save lives. Some of our youth are hearing messaging from elected officials or adults entrusted with their care that they don’t matter or that they shouldn’t exist. This can have dangerous consequences when a youth is already struggling with anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation.

Yes, life is still complicated in 2018. Yes, it gets better, but it only gets better when we make it better. Our youth don’t need to be leading the fight. Our youth need adults to do this. Our youth need us. Although, most of my kids are pretty amazing and will be right there with us fighting the good fight.

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