Editorial: Our LGBTQ+ youth can’t opt out of their identity, for their sake and safety we can’t either

As we bring Pride month to a close, we cannot forget that what Long Beach youth need most is a pathway toward affirming all of their intersecting LBGTQ+ identities. The Long Beach Unified School District plays a role in celebrating and protecting these youth and supporting their classmates in becoming strong allies.

Some of us remember what it was like to be a parent that had a child that identified as LGBTQ+ in LBUSD 20 years ago. Unfortunately at that moment in time, this issue was at best ignored. There were no resources and there was no acknowledgment of the LGBTQ+ community, let alone the honoring of Pride month.

Yes, we now proudly acknowledge Pride month in Long Beach. In fact, we just celebrated the freshly painted Broadway Corridor and newly-dedicated Rainbow Tower. But in the same way that painting the new, more inclusive Progress Pride flag on the lifeguard tower was omitted in favor of what we’ve always seen, LGBTQ+ representation in education must be overt.

The district shows public support of the LGBTQ+ community and has been working in partnership with the LGBTQ Center Long Beach for many years to provide workshops and training to teachers and staff at all LBUSD schools. According to Joel Gemino, the center’s youth services manager, families are reporting that conversations are taking place at the elementary school level about diverse family structures.

As we celebrate these improvements in LGBTQ+ affirmation, there’s also work to be done.

Students surveyed in May by the district noted concerns about how LGBTQ+ issues are handled at their schools. During a presentation at the June 23 LBUSD school board meeting, a slide contained the following student survey response, “I would like a rule that all teachers use and respect preferred pronouns so that no student is ever misgendered.”

On this topic of teaching students about gender identity, Gemino of the LGBTQ Center says, “there’s a deficit in understanding how to talk about this in a way that young people understand. There is definitely some work to do in making sure that all teachers have the training to be able to talk about this.”

Although the FAIR Education Act of 2011 requires a more diverse curriculum be taught at public schools that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, without individual school site leadership that is energetic and passionate about advocating the inclusion of these materials some teachers avoid teaching the content. Maybe they’re homophobic or maybe they predict parental backlash, but community advocacy and support of the importance of this curriculum inclusion is needed.

Additionally, those parents or caregivers who are anti-LGBTQ+ create a situation where school may be the only safe space where their children can show up as their authentic selves. Through allyship we can correct omissions or avoidance of including LGBTQ+ roles and figures by demanding that the school sites all include this curriculum that has been approved at the district level.

LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said “the school district takes seriously its obligation to follow the FAIR Act” and said there are plans to incorporate related professional development during its summer equity institute, which includes training for nearly 4,000 staff.

However, Eftychiou acknowledges that “parents may request their child receive an alternate assignment…and the school staff will make an effort to accommodate the parents’ wishes.” This opting of children out of curriculum that specifically helps LGBTQ+ youth is harmful.

According to a 2020 report released by UCLA, 9.5% of youth in the United States reported being LGBTQ+. This statistic applied to LBUSD means that over 6,650 students need their LGBTQ+ identity to be affirmed and supported.

The statistics pertaining to suicide and depression in LGBTQ+ youth demonstrate just how much work is still needed. Additionally, studies from the Center for American Progress and other organizations have shown disproportionate numbers of LGBTQ+ youth entering the school-to-prison pipeline, partially driven by increased discipline and bullying in schools. Additionally, 42% of transgender or gender-expansive youth have received physical threats due to their identity.

“Providing students with allyship workshops benefits all students, not just LGBTQ students,” said Antonio “Nio” Lavermon, youth services and transition coordinator at the LGBTQ Center Long Beach. “Students learn how to conceptualize anxiety, communicate more openly and have new dialogue around mental health.”

The community advocacy cannot come only from those parents and caregivers of LGBTQ+ youth, as this often will publicly out a child. The groundswell of support and activism must stem from a broader swath of adults who know it to be the right thing for all students to receive this support and identity-affirming education.

For resources on providing support to LGBTQ+ youth click here

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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