NDN Op-Ed: Queer Youth Speak Out


This opinion article was published in the Naples Daily News and The News-Press on October 29, 2023.

In current Florida public schools, you are made to fear being queer. You are different, and you are punished for that. You cannot see yourself in the faculty around you, as they cannot speak about being queer for fear of being fired. You are mocked and ridiculed by your peers because your peers have been told you are different and deserve to be treated with disgust and loathing. Are we not a minority worth protecting? Diversity is a beautiful thing and should be treated as such; yet, we see signs, stickers, and people telling us, “You are not equal. You do not deserve dignity or respect. You do not deserve humanity.” Queer people, especially children, do deserve dignity and respect, and do deserve to see themselves in their schools.

We deserve humanity.

Imagine a world where Christian books are banned from schools, dozens at a time. Imagine if Christians were turned away from bathrooms for being Christian. Imagine if Christians were not allowed to speak about being Christian in schools, or were not allowed to wear cross necklaces or to pray.

\Imagine if Christian children had to face signs, stickers, and peers telling them they were not welcome and they were doomed to an eternity of suffering. This is the present reality for queer children across Florida public schools. We cannot be ourselves for fear of retribution or abuse. Schools are removing books that have queer characters. Our teachers must hide their same-gendered spouses and put away rainbow lanyards, or else be accused of “grooming”.

As everything queer is hidden from our school experience, we get the message that God must have made a mistake in creating us. We are made to feel that we deserve to be pushed away or punished. These negative messages follow us into adulthood; they are yelled at us, forced upon us. But we were all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:14), and we deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and equality, as all humans should be.

Among recent anti-queer laws, Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent “Let Kids be Kids” law takes away queer kids’ humanity. We exist, we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re afraid. We should be happy and comfortable in our lives, not having our childhoods stripped away from us, to being forced so early in life to fight for our rights and convince the world that we are human. We’re made to feel that we’re a danger to others, and our peers are told that we are less than human.

A recent Trevor Project survey found that 45% of queer youth in Florida consider suicide, and 16% have made an attempt on their own lives. While we are young, we have the right to develop and live as we wish. If we kill ourselves, we will never be able to find what makes us happy.

Human difference is beautiful; it is what feeds the blossoming of rich cultures and societies. Our laws should thus encourage this difference as fundamental to a healthy civic and civil society. Instead, Florida’s government is selectively choosing which categories of people are acceptable as they take away the right of queer children to be ourselves. Queer children deserve happiness. We should be allowed to discover ourselves and live. We deserve to be represented in schools and see ourselves as equals. We deserve humanity.

To showcase the experiences of queer children in Florida, GLSEN Collier County and Interfaith Alliance of Southwest Florida are co-hosting an event. Queer Youth Speak Out will be held Thursday, November 2nd from 6 to 8 pm in Beverly Hall at the Naples United Church of Christ: 5200 Crayton Road, Naples, FL 34103. At this event, LGBTQ+ students will share their stories in today’s Florida. This event is open to the public. To register, visit glsencollier.org. If you have any questions regarding the event, email chapter@ccfl.glsen.org.

By Kayak (18-year old student in Naples, FL)