LGBT youth remains resilient in face of discrimination


Nikol Slatinska

Art by Dzung Nguyen
This story contains explicit language

In just five short months, the legal and everyday circumstances have turned completely upside down for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.

From President Donald Trump signing an executive order to nullify President Barack Obama’s 2014 order protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace to officials from the Justice and Education Departments dismissing laws requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, the new political climate surrounding the civil rights of this demographic has provoked panic and protest nationwide.

Even though he is not transgender, senior Ethan Howard still sees the repercussions of the bathroom debate on his friends and the rest of the LGBTQ community.

“The [revoking of the transgender bathroom bill] affects a few of my friends who have come out as transgender, or genderqueer or gender neutral. It really infuriates them,” Howard said. “It’s such a change from when gay people got the right to legally marry, and seeing how that has changed now with all this anti-transgender and LGBTQ [sentiment] and gay conversion therapy/camps that Mike Pence and [President] Donald Trump have been talking about putting into place is heartbreaking. We’re going backwards from where we were two years ago.”

Although Missouri has no official policy on gay conversion, James Breckenridge, an attorney at the Levy Craig Law firm in Kansas City, Mo., said the practice is culturally popular here as compared to other states. Other legislative problems, however, have been permanently decided. On March 1, state senators voted against an amendment proposed by Sen. Jill Schupp that would have banned discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Missouri law offers no state-wide protection for LGBT workers. In essence, this makes discrimination against LGBT workers legal for employers. If someone wants to fire you for being gay, they can, and you can’t sue or bring a claim under the Missouri Human Rights Act like you could if you were fired for being a woman, or black or Latino, for example,” Breckenridge said. “Two cities have local ordinances that prevent discrimination on the basis of your status as an LGBT individual. They are Kansas City and St. Louis.”

Because of this societal digression, president of the non-profit LGBTQ advocacy center The Center Project (TCP) Dion Wisniewski believes the fight for equal rights is the most important issue regarding the LGBTQ community. Though he is unsure of how to directly combat this problem, TCP hosts programs and organizations to help individuals feel safer and more accepted. These programs include The Clothing Closet, which provides clothing to all queer people in need, Mid-MO Pridefest and various support groups.

Wisniewski also said the LGBTQ community must not give up hope that all members will one day be treated like everyone else.

It’s hard to imagine that so much effort is taken to legislate how people live their private lives a private life that doesn’t affect the staunchly religious Republican that lives next door,” Wisniewski said. “We have to keep fighting to remind our elected officials that they represent all of us and not just the people who voted for them. We have to constantly remind them that everything they hear is not the truth and work to correct any false information that may be used to influence their policy choice, such as the unfounded belief that conversion therapy works or that homosexuality is a choice or a psychiatric disease.”

On top of having to deal with prejudiced political officials’ assumptions, Howard, who is gay, has lived with the fear of not being accepted by his own family. He himself was unsure of his true identity from eighth grade until sophomore year, and his peers didn’t make his journey to self-acceptance any easier.

Just as he had begun to realize that he was not only attracted to girls, but boys as well, someone hacked his Facebook account and posted something insinuating that Howard was a homosexual. Alarmed, Howard shrank from his true identity.

This happened on my Facebook account that I shared with all of my family members and random people from school. The person who hacked it posted something about ‘d*ck tasting good.’ I looked in the comments, and my aunt and uncled were like, ‘What?’ So I deleted my Facebook,” Howard said. “[The hacking] made me nervous because the day after it happened, in math class, this kid came in and was like, ‘Hey, what was that on your Facebook? You like d*ck?’ So I went home later that night and looked at it, and it freaked me out so much. I had a mental break down. I hadn’t been on that Facebook for months, so I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was so confused when he said that in class.”

The incident was certainly traumatizing, and, unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ community often endure much worse. Up to 25 percent of lesbian and gay people experience hate crimes during their lives, as reported by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Transgender people are 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence, two times more likely to receive threats and 6.2 times more likely to experience police violence than any other members of the LGBTQ community, according to Luckily, many institutions are trying to decrease these figures.

Many non-governmental organizations are working to combat hate crime in Missouri. Promo works on a policy level to try to effect positive change in the legislature. The Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is growing by leaps and bounds and is making it known to consumers that many businesses are committed to defending the fight for LGBT equality,” Breckenridge said. “[The] Kansas City Anti-Violence Project offers emergency assistance to LGBT victims of violence. And [The University of Missouri–Kansas City] offers an empowerment scholarship to students to cover the cost of their tuition, room and board if they get kicked out by their parents when they come out. All of these measures offer collateral, if not direct, protection from hate.”

With support from his friends and no other nightmarish occurrences, Howard finally felt comfortable enough to tell someone that he wasn’t straight in July of 2016. During his lunch break at work, a supervisor made a comment about a male customer being attractive. Howard agreed with her, which led them to both share that they were bisexual. Although the revelation was alleviating and led Howard to come out to some of his friends, he kept his parents in the dark until February of this year when he told them he had asked a boy to courtwarming. By this point, Howard had realized he was not bisexual, but gay, yet his parents were unaware.

Fortunately, Howard said, his parents were supportive of his decision. Later that night, his mother came into his room and told him that it was okay if he liked girls, boys or both.

“My mom saying that made me feel really amazing. Coming out was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to deal with since I haven’t had my wisdom teeth out yet. I was worried that when I get them out I would accidentally tell my parents that I’m gay, and they would have to figure that out when I’m on anesthesia,” Howard said. “I was worried my parents would hate me or kick me out of the house because that’s a really prominent thing that happens to people in the LGBTQ community.”

Howard is unfortunately correct; more than one in four LGBTQ adolescents get thrown out of their homes, as reported by the True Colors Fund. Breckenridge explained that even though approximately 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, only seven to 10 percent of the population is LGBTQ. TCP tries to make sure that no individual gets left behind by providing spaces where people can feel protected, Wisniewski explained.

Sure someone can just target our location, but there is always power in numbers. [Offering safe spaces] is a small step, but we think it’s immensely helpful to allow people to feel comfortable in their surroundings when surrounded by like-minded people,” Wisniewski said. “[That] then pours out into feeling comfortable in their community.”

What do you think would help the safety of the LBGT community? Leave a comment below.