Maybe instead of worrying about which restrooms LGBTQ+ students use, the real worry is whether kids – whose gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth – are even in school.
Keeping young people who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer or other) safe and in school with access to resources is one of the goals of a new training video, “I Am Me: Understanding the Intersections of Gender, Sexuality and Identity.”
The 42-minute video, available to view at nmsoc.org/cocvideos, is a group effort supported by the Communities of Care, a project of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Family Department.
The video provides an in-depth picture of how LGBTQ+ young people are marginalized in their everyday lives and the serious outcomes they face. The youth share how they can be supported to become successful adults.
“I grew up as a queer trans person in Santa Fe Public Schools,” says Jess Clark, who uses he, him and his as pronouns to describe himself.
Clark, 30, is a prevention specialist at Solace Crisis Treatment Center in Santa Fe and was featured in the film.
“My goal is to make our schools and our community a safe place for our young people. My school was fine, but it would have been great if some of the caring adults had been trained. People shouldn’t have to explain their existence to get access to basic services. I shouldn’t have to tell you my life story to get my elbow fixed. You shouldn’t have to explain the intricacies of your identity to been seen by a doctor or attend a class.”
According to a joint news release from Equality New Mexico, New Mexico Safe Schools Initiative and New Mexico Communities of Care, half of LGBTG+ students in the state don’t feel safe at school. They are more than twice as likely to be bullied as their straight peers.
About one-third of them, who make up 7 percent of the total youth population, have attempted suicide, compared to 8 percent of their straight peers.
“To identify as gay or lesbian is not a pathology,” says video producer Jenn Jevertson of Prevention at Play. “Kids get bullied – picked on – for being different. LGBTQ youth have higher rates of suicide ideation and higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse because of how society responds to them.”
‘The perfect tool’
In the film, many young people talk about not going to school or anywhere much at all, because they experience discrimination and alienation.
Ashley Allers, 22, who appears in the film, says, “I wanted to be part of ‘I Am Me’ because there are so many adults who want to be as supportive as they can to LGBTQ+ young people, but don’t necessarily know how to do so effectively. There were adults in my life in this situation when I was in school, and now that a tool is available to them, I’m confident that more youth will feel supported in our state.”
Another young person in the video, Julia Young, 19, expressed a similar view. “In high school I would see teachers at a loss for words or some who didn’t even know how to handle certain situations, but this film is the perfect tool to help those teachers and staff members.”
Communicating and intervening in bullying are important ways to show support.
“A lot of our young people get pushed out,” says LuzMarina Serrano from New Mexico Gay Straight Alliance Network, describing the difficulties of staying in school.
Serrano, 34, who grew up in New York City, a child of undocumented immigrants, talks about the complex layering that creates an individual’s identity. Serrano says she never came out as a lesbian until she was in college and away from home. “It was hard to be Latina, indigenous and queer. It was hard to be my true self.”
But part of the work for adults who care about young people in the LGBTQ+ community is to help them broaden their vision for the future and not give up, she says.
“Now I have a loving partner of eight years. I have a lot of things I didn’t think were possible. Now we see it was possible to live lives we didn’t think were out there.”
Serrano says she hopes the video will soon be translated into Spanish and Diné.
One of the important aspects of the film is its definition of acceptable terms, Jevertson says. It’s hard to feel included when language is sparse to describe your identity. For example, preferred words include “cisgender,” which means one identifies with the gender assigned at birth and “transgender” as an adjective to describe someone who identifies as other than the gender assigned at birth.
Some perjorative words include hate words and also “homosexual or lifestyle” to describe LGBTQ+ people. “Queer” is an umbrella term that can be used, but not everyone is comfortable with it so it should be used carefully.
“Terms change and evolve. You’ve just got to roll with it,” Jevertson says. Another useful point raised in the film is to respect people by not guessing their gender identity, she says.
“Ask, ‘what pronouns do you use?’ Our society is binary. It assumes there are only two genders. In some indigenous communities there are more than seven words to describe gender,” she says.
“What we know is that our LGBTQ+ youth face serious discrimination and harassment from society. It is our duty to provide safe and welcoming places for these young people to be seen, heard and valued for who they are. The ultimate intention of this video is to help adults learn how to do best do that.”