Growing up Black, queer, and different in the '80s and '90s, I used to wish I saw more people like me on TV and in the news. This year, I'm heartbroken that LGBTQ+ youth -- especially trans and nonbinary children -- are being thrust into the spotlight not for their brilliance or leadership, but as political pawns ahead of elections.
Last month, a handful of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in Congress stooped to a new low in their efforts to rile up their base when they introduced a bill to ban discussions of LGBTQ+ people and history in schools nationwide. It's a transparent political stunt with little chance of moving forward, but the message is clear: LGBTQ+ youth are under attack this midterm cycle.
Public education is the foundation of a flourishing, multiracial democracy, and these recent anti-LGBTQ+ bans are an insidious, corrosive, two-for-one attack on equality and democracy.
Anti-democracy politicians have been using the same political playbook to defund education since schools were desegregated. Instead of openly running on a platform to funnel public money to private schools that allow discrimination -- which is what they really want -- extremists are stoking fear about LGBTQ-inclusive education. Wealthy special interest groups are politicizing education to prevent kids from learning about natural diversity in the world.
These are the kids who will grow up to lead our companies, schools, institutions, and government at all levels. Will they grow up to fear and hate those different from themselves? Will we teach them to heal or polarize?
If we allow a generation of young people to grow up without supportive, inclusive, and truthful education, they won't have the tools they need to contribute to and protect our pluralistic and multiracial democracy.
For our opposition, this is exactly the point.
LGBTQ+ youth are some of the most politically active young people in this country and they're already fighting for change. The students I work with know firsthand that the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and history in curriculum benefits the learning of all students, not just those who happen to be "different."
Now is our moment to defend democracy. Our nation is at an inflection point, and we must use our power at the ballot box to usher in champions of equality, education, truth, and democracy. We need candidates who reflect our values at every level, not just in Congress or the White House. Local leaders from state legislatures to school boards to city halls to county courtrooms make critical decisions about what resources your neighborhood has and what kids learn.
Voting is a simple and imperfect exercise, but it is also an essential first step. I know we can't rely on voting alone to change generations of entrenched inequity, but without our engagement in the process, that entrenched inequality only continues and worsens until we change who is in power. Like Zora Neale Hurston told us: "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."
I know it feels especially hopeless right now amid a resurgence of voter suppression laws being enforced though fascist, Christian nationalist violence and meant to silence the true majority of this country: Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, women, trans and nonbinary people, immigrant communities, people with disabilities, poor and working-class people, incarcerated folks, and more. But voting is a practice of hope -- as Mariame Kaba, a social justice activist, educator and organizer tells us: Hope is a discipline.
So look at it this way: Vote to show that you refuse to lose hope, to show collective power, and to clear the way for people to demand what they need to live with dignity and build a brighter future for us all. This starts -- not ends -- with voting.
I'll be voting in my local races for the candidates who champion equality, invest in education, and respect our nation's democratic ideals. I urge all voters to join me and rise up in solidarity with and for LGBTQ+ students.
When I was a student, visibly Black, and obviously, to most, queer, I didn't always have the words to articulate my vision for the future, because I hadn't seen what a future for people like me could be like. What was freedom, dignity, connection, and possibility, anyway? Now I work with others to protect and build a future that includes all of us.
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers is the executive director of GLSEN, the nation's leading organization advocating for the rights and well-being of LGBTQ+ students in K-12 education.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.
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