Certainly, I’m proud of the progress I’ve seen in my lifetime. There have been monumental shifts in gay rights bestowed by the Supreme Court: Bowers v. Hardwick, Romer v. Evans, U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. There have been incredible changes in public perception of the queer community: a long-running Gallup poll asked whether relations between consenting gay adults should be legal has shifted from 57% against in 1985 to 79% for in 2021. With greater acceptance has come greater visibility and ability for those in the queer community to come out: 7.1% of Americans identify as something other than heterosexual, with more than 20% of Generation Z doing so.
And yet, with all that progress, queer youth still struggle, as the lived reality of LGBTQ+ students is a world of mixed messages about them belonging. In 2015, the CDC began asking students about their sexual orientation in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning experienced higher levels of bullying, suicidality, and depression than their straight peers. And, the trends continued in the 2017 and 2019 surveys, as this chart created by the Brookings Institution shows.
In addition, there is the predictable backlash to progress made. In the first few months of this year, more than 240 bills were introduced in state legislatures targeting the queer community (mainly targeting transgender Americans), with many of the bills specifically limiting how schools can support queer students. As more bills get introduced and passed, new legislative efforts seem to get bolder: this week a Texas legislator introduced a bill banning drag shows in the presence of minors, while at the same time saying that there should not be any changes to gun laws as a result of the Uvalde school massacre.
In the face of backlash and with an understanding of mental health challenges for queer youth, it is imperative that Academic Leaders work to make sure that LGBTQ+ students feel welcome, safe, seen, and protected in our schools. Let’s commit to that this Pride month.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)