“But I’m cisgender and straight. Why should I worry about LGBTQ+ issues?”
This is an extremely common thought, and I have heard this from many people over the years. It’s an easy response for us to have: if x doesn’t directly affect me, then why do I need to worry about it?
The truth is, everyone has a reason to be concerned about the issues facing LGBTQ+ people. There are also more reasons than just “Oh yeah. I have a friend who’s gay/trans/bisexual/etc so I’m going to care!” Here are a few reasons for you.
LGBTQ+ History is just as important as all other history.
When I was a junior in high school, my AP US History class took a field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. While walking through, I saw my first ever museum exhibit about the LGBTQ+ rights and its movement. I remember feeling so deeply understood, noticed, and also a little exposed by the piece. It was the first time that I can remember ever seeing something in person and on display that recognized the struggle of queer people before me to have their voices heard. I’m sure that I stood in front of that glass case for a good fifteen minutes just looking over each magazine cover, polaroid image, and poster just wondering where in my education this information had fallen through the cracks.
Queer history is still history. All of the events in the LGBTQ+ rights movement up until this very day have all had an impact, small or large, on the current state of things. Just as the knowledge of every American war ever fought can help to possibly prevent future ones, learning how people have been oppressed and discriminated against wrongly in the past can help us to realize the same tendencies in ourselves and society as a whole whenever they begin to arise. It’s the old adage that history will repeat itself if we do not learn from it.
It will greatly deepen your understanding of yourself and others.
One of the greatest lessons that I have learned by being in the LGBTQ+ community is that binaries don’t really exist. We often think of sexuality, romantic attraction, and gender in binary ways. However, this is not how things really work. Just ask anyone you’ve ever met! While not everyone is open, I’m sure you will find that not everyone is exactly “straight” or “gay” or “masculine” or “feminine.” Even a “straight” person has the possibility to be even just romantically attracted to people of a similar gender, although that may not be their sexual preference.
I recently participated in a workshop at the University of Mississippi’s main campus in Oxford led by the incredible Robyn Ochs. In this workshop, we completed an activity where we found out just how different and not-so-binary everyone really is. The best part was that we used real information about real people that were also attending the workshop. We took anonymous surveys and then physically moved around to show the data visually. Here’s a link to a description of the activity that I found on Robyn’s website: https://robynochs.com/beyond-binaries-classroom/
When we stick ourselves in binaries, we only contribute to the negativity that also contributes to the mental health crisis. By getting ourselves out of that thinking and instead stopping to look at the beautiful individuals we are surrounded with, we realize that those things do not matter. Our labels are not space that we must completely fill. We use our labels to cover the space we take up.
Representation is everything.
Growing up, I do not remember having any queer role models to look up to. Representation and visibility are so important when it comes to understanding ourselves and who we are, as well as knowing that we are not alone in the ways that we feel. When we learn about things, we are less scared about them. Ignorance makes people afraid because they do not know that the things they are afraid of are harmless. A psychology concept exists that exposure for an extended length of time can reduce anxiety that is created over a particular thing. Just imagine how different our society would be if we began learning even a small part of queer history when we were in K-12!
We see over and over again that more movies, books, and TV shows are having inclusive characters. This is fantastic. I often think of how much better off a kid now with a similar experience to me is going to be when they’re older thanks to these new developments. Instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m the only gay person that I know!”, they say “Oh, I’m just like that celebrity/TV character I know.” This is extremely important, because LGBTQ+ people often feel alone and invisible.
Mental health affects the LGBT+ community tremendously.
Drawing from the other points, I would hope that this one seems apparent. Just one look at The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey On LGBTQ Mental Health shows that we have a lot to work on when it comes to the mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals. There are a multitude of things that correlate to this increase in mental health issues and suicidality. All of these potential causes aside, we just need to realize that more support and more allies are what are going to help us to get to a much better place than where we are now.
I don’t think that anyone would deny that the conversation around mental health has been getting louder in the past few years. Most people know that there is a definite mental health crisis going on. We talk about it, but we never break it down into pieces and analyze those who are struggling the most and what might be behind it. Learning about LGBTQ+ issues allows us to gain that understanding and help to support those with mental illness.
Overall, being aware of what is happening in and to the LGBTQ+ community is extremely important if we are to have a truly inclusive society. Just because you are not a part of a community does not mean that you cannot support and uplift those that are. The reality is that queer people are everywhere, and the decision to not accept them is not going to do anything positive for the world. After all, nobody is any less human for having a queer identity.