I didn’t know what the word ‘gay’ meant until I was fourteen.
My LGBT education and experience growing up in my pre-teenage and early teenage years was, to put it frankly, nonexistent. My mom and dad never mentioned the LGBT community when they gave me ‘the talk.’ When I took health class in eighth grade and we had the ‘sex ed’ lesson, same-sex relationships weren’t even mentioned on the PowerPoint.
I do have to mention that I was homeschooled from kindergarten to seventh grade, entering the public-school system in eighth grade. It wasn’t until I entered the public school system that I even heard the word ‘gay.’ The shocking truth behind this entire experience is that my experiences were no different than most of my peers at the age of fourteen. I wasn’t even aware of my own feelings toward my sexuality until I joined my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) during my freshman year. After four years of involvement with my high school’s GSA, and then on my own to this present day, I have become more comfortable with my own sexuality. I finally feel at home in my own skin as a bisexual woman. I have been able to come to terms with how I feel. And the most important part? After four years of questioning and self-discovery, I’ve found that my sexual orientation is valid. It is something that not only makes me feel complete as a human being, but it brings me comfort that I am finally not afraid to tell my peers, my significant other, or my family.
This is a part of who I am as a human being.
My journey of discovery could not have been possible without organizations like GSA’s, or Pride Clubs, or GLSEN. Even then, I wasn’t able to begin learning about myself and who I am until high school. We didn’t have any resources available to me in middle school, or even earlier during my homeschooling years. Initially, I had to figure all of this out on my own. And that was terrifying. Picture this scene: High school me, spending countless of hours combing through pamphlet after pamphlet, website after website, all in order to find the answer to the question: Why am I different? I want my voice to be heard. Education about the LGBT community, even today, is lacking. It is barely a whisper in our high schools, it is but a passing thought in our middle schools. We are making strides, but we need to make them larger.
When I first entered high school, our GSA was strong and had a mix of allies and members of the LGBT community. At the end of my senior year, the club was almost nonexistent. In our high schools and middle schools today, ‘gay’ is used more often as a slur than it is as a valid identity. Students aren’t able to fully accept themselves until they reach college, and even then, it’s terrifying to deal with both the college transition process and the fact that you are finally learning to love and accept yourself as who you truly are. Students need awareness. We need it earlier and we need it to be stronger. We need more LGBT oriented sex education in our schools. We need to learn how to be safe too. We need ‘gay’ to transform into an identity in our schools and in our communities.
We need change.
Colette Rinker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org