From an early age, I’ve seen positive representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. I’ve read books with LGBTQ protagonists, seen TV shows and movies featuring LGBTQ characters. Same-sex couples have been able to marry in my home state of North Carolina since I was just out of elementary school. And when I came out as LGBTQ at the age of 12, I received support and love from my parents and friends.
But even though our world may be more accepting of LGBTQ people now than it was a decade ago, the reality is that in most states – including North Carolina – LGBTQ people are not protected from discrimination. The reality is that every year, people are fired from their jobs, denied a place to live, and turned away from businesses because of who they are or who they love.
When I’m at school, I feel like my identity is supported by teachers and classmates, whether it’s during meetings for extracurricular activities or in the classroom. But I won’t be in school forever. Soon I’ll be graduating, living on my own, and entering the workforce – and it scares me to know that in most states, I could be subjected to discrimination based on my LGBTQ identity.
I want North Carolina to be a state that reassures LGBTQ people that they are respected members of the community. I want our state to rid ourselves of the hostile reputation brought on by the passage of the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in 2016. I want young people to see reflected in real life positive representations of LGBTQ people.
That’s why I’ve been speaking out this year about the importance of affirming and protecting LGBTQ people from harm. This spring I met with lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly about the dangerous practice of conversion therapy, which claims to be able to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The discredited “therapy” is still permitted in North Carolina, even though it’s proven to have long-lasting damaging repercussions for minors.
Some of the elected officials I spoke with were surprised or outraged that something so clearly harmful would still be permitted. How could we allow anyone to force young people to change a core part of themselves?
Now I’m asking a similar question about our lack of nondiscrimination protections: How could we allow anyone to fire, evict, or turn away anyone solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? Just as young people remain vulnerable to conversion therapy in our state, LGBTQ North Carolinians at any age remain vulnerable to discrimination.
One thing that struck me while doing research about LGBTQ equality has been the mental health issues that LGBTQ people develop when confronted with discrimination, or harassment. People targeted because of who they are frequently develop feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s in our power as young people to take action, to take a stand against discrimination; as teenagers, we will inherit this world. I for one want to inherit a world where LGBTQ people are affirmed and supported – a world where we can live our lives openly and honestly.
A majority across North Carolina and throughout the United States supports LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. I want a world where my elected officials listen to that majority and do the right thing.