If I could define the pandemic in one word for LGBTI+ communities, it would be disruption. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) people struggled to meet their basic needs of food and shelter during the pandemic, exacerbated by existing inequalities. (1) Access to healthcare and medication became challenging. Isolation, anxiety, risk of family and domestic violence, and fear of societal stigma and discrimination all increased this year. Non-governmental organizations, which play a strategic role in reaching and representing these communities, struggled to deliver services as lockdowns and travel restrictions made it increasingly difficult to provide desperately needed resources to community members, particularly those in rural areas. The effect of this pandemic was particularly compounded for LGBTI+ youth.
Before the pandemic, queer youth were 120% more likely to experience homelessness compared to their straight, cisgender peers,(2) suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people in the United States,(3) homophobic and transphobic violence occurred widely in all societies in all regions of the world,(4) and conversion therapy remained prevalent throughout the world.(5) In addition to the violence and change efforts by key stakeholders, LGBTI+ identity and lived experiences were silent in many classrooms due to a fear of community backlash, teacher identity, and/or a lack of knowledge or comfort largely due to lack of training about these topics. (6)
The pandemic exacerbated these problems. In many cases, teachers and friends were a crucial source of comfort for LGBTI+ youth who seek refuge from abusive peers, parents, and families. As schools closed, support became increasingly difficult as classes moved online, the curriculum sharpened to prioritize core subjects, and attention focused on distance. LGBTI+ youth were forced to stay in their homes – many of whom were at risk of abuse and harassment from their parents and siblings. Additionally, as spaces move online, the threat of cyberbullying has grown in our new digital mode of education. While their experiences during the pandemic have yet to be captured in academic research, existing trends and prior research already signal the grave lifelong consequences this time may have on LGBTI+ youth. However, returning back to ‘normal’ cannot be an option if safety is a priority as returning to normal equates to returning to a system of violence against LGBTI+ youth. Therefore, we must create a new normal.
Disruption is not only bad; it can also spark innovation. This moment has provided the world with an opportunity to stop and critically examine if the system we were operating in was working for all people and the planet. This time is an opportunity to transition from a system of inequalities to a system of freedom. At the Global Center, we’ve been imagining what it would mean to transform the world through education for LGBTI+ youth globally. From our work, we’ve determined that we all have a role in that process. In fact, 193 countries have already adopted Sustainable Development Goal 4 of ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education…for all” by 2030. Therefore, the next step is to act.
The Global Center’s all-EARS approach (education, advocacy, research, and support) can guide us as we lead through listening, and may offer a few ideas on what you can do right now to help LGBTI+ youth:
- Education: We believe that transformation begins within oneself. Taking the time to reflect and read will provide critical insight and information on the experiences of LGBTI+ youth.
- Advocacy: There are numerous ways to advocate including social media, policy action, contacting politicians directly, and having ongoing discussions with loved ones to build a path towards acceptance. Some key places to start advocating can be to change curricula, policies, and textbooks at the local, state, and national levels.
- Research: Alongside education, go online and research facts and statistics about LGBTI+ youths’ experiences in different countries. Then, share those results. Actively listen, ask questions, and dialogue with people in your local community.
- Support: Give your time and money to organizations working with LGBTI+ youth. This movement is relatively new and needs your help to build strength and create the capacity for impact.
This moment of disruption is an opportunity to transform ourselves, our schools, and our societies. However, solutions must be shaped to the contextual realities in which they exist. While there is no one approach to reach our goal, we can learn and grow from each other as individuals, organizations, and nations in order to sustain this global movement. If all of us take this time to join the disruption and rebuild spaces of diversity, equity, and inclusion, then we can live in a world where LGBTI+ youth live free and equal. Education is the key to ensuring this happens as it provides a tool for all people to have the knowledge, skills, and action needed to flourish.