Rainbow Road in the “Mario Kart” video game is known to be one of the hardest tracks to complete, but no one said that the rainbow road of life would be even harder.
The battle for rights doesn’t stop when a queer student enters a school. If anything, it might get harder.
High school brings many different ways of viewing the world, and not all are the friendliest. Millennials are becoming more accepting of queer youth but there are always exceptions. Queer students will face bigotry in high school, direct or not, and this can have a negative effect on their life.
With millennials, the average coming-out age is 17, according to the website lifeabout.com. That’s near the end of the usual high school experience, and the journey of coming out is difficult.
Here in Utah, many would agree there is a religious bias and a high intolerance toward queer youth.
“Around the time I realized I wasn’t straight, I went to a very cliquey LDS-dominated charter school, and I found it hard to be myself and find role models around me,” said Arron Pearson, a bisexual transgender male who goes to a Davis School District high school.
The intolerance applies to home life and school. The lack of maturity from kids at school can create an unsafe environment for queer students.
“Every boy ever just treated me like a disease,” said Kenson Williams, a gay male attending a Weber School District high school.
According to Mental Health America, queer youth are twice as likely to be bullied verbally and physically than nonqueer students. This leads to difficulty with coming out and self-expression, and causes queer youth to struggle with self-acceptance.
“People talk bad about me behind my back and some students view me as a threat or (a) dangerously different person while, really, I am just trying to live my life as happily as I can,” said a transgender male who goes to a Weber district high school.
Another queer student, also from a Weber district high school, added, “Being a little scared can definitely get in the way of finding yourself and make it difficult because you never know who is going to judge you.”
Higher suicide rates
Some students will see bigotry at home more than they do at school. With such a large religious influence in Utah, it’s not uncommon for kids to have parents against or ignorant toward the queer community.
“My parents chose not to acknowledge (my sexuality) because (they think) sexuality is a phase unless you’re straight,” said a bisexual student from a high school in Weber School District.
A queer kid who lives in this type of household can develop internalized homophobia/transphobia. This is when someone is homophobic and/or transphobic while being homosexual or trans themselves. Extreme mental issues usually emerge, such as depression and anxiety.
But these mental disorders aren’t limited to those who experience that internalization.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual youths in grades 7-12 are twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers,” according to the website Healthline.com. Growing up learning and seeing a society against you is traumatizing, and having to go through the bigotry at school is exhausting. Students attend school every day knowing they’ll be judged and mocked for their existence.
There is little to no education about the queer community in schools and households. So, when students are exposed to it, they may not know how to react.
“People obviously do get uncomfortable. I literally walk the halls in heels and makeup,” said Williams.
As the fight for queer rights rises, students’ confidence does as well.
“I’m comfortable with myself. (My sexuality) is just another part,” said a bisexual high school student in the Weber district.
There is an influx in queer pride everywhere. Students who aren’t supported in their local communities can turn to outside groups for advice and help. The media is representing more and more queer people in film, music and books, providing healthy role models for young queer kids. The help of these sources has led students to accept themselves despite bigotry and confusion around them.
School systems are beginning to accommodate queer students — more so in liberal areas, but every once in a while, help will pop up out of the unexpected.
“(The school system) treats me respectfully and no different from any other student,” a Weber district transgender male student said. “I have the chance to have my preferred name in the school system and I have never been forced to use the girls’ bathroom.”
Finding a group of accepting peers in school is a huge relief and can aid queer students with accepting themselves, finding other people going through similar struggles, and expressing themselves without judgment.
“I ended up going to a public school with a good amount of diversity,” Pearson said. “The social side of school got easier; I was accepted better and felt more confident in myself. ... I also had a lot of examples of trans students at the first high school I attended. This gave me hope for myself and helped me actually figure that part of myself out.”
Queer students will continue to struggle — that’s the sad news. The maturity level and lack of education at school targets the people outside of society’s norms. But as the struggle goes on, so does the fight for acceptance.
The Rainbow Road will stretch on, with twists and turns all along the way. But there is eventually a victorious end.