Realities of LGBT+ Students

Realities of LGBT+ Students

Emily Sobel


*Names changed for privacy.

It’s a normal school day for sophomore *Susan Roberts. She woke up, ate breakfast, and made it to school by 7:10 a.m. Sitting with her friends in the hallway, they discuss a variety of topics, which soon turn to crushes. Several of her female friends express crushes on other girls, while two boys say they like another boy. Only three or four people express interest in the opposite gender.

     She notices one boy sitting a little way off, and asks what’s wrong. He says he would love to join in the conversation, but he’s still unsure of his sexual orientation. She invites him over anyway to give him a sense of community, and three months later, he proudly introduces the group to his boyfriend.

     “My sister just said ‘cool, great thanks for telling me. I still hate you,” Roberts said.

     Roberts identifies as bisexual, and she’s not alone. As of 2017, nearly 8-percent of American high school students identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other, and more so in highly progressive areas. While it may seem small, this amount has practically skyrocketed from 20 or 30 years ago. As society moves towards a new age of acceptance and community, Roberts and others finally have the support they need to be themselves.

     “My mom seems pretty okay with it. I’ve come out to her,” said sophomore *Jose Quinones.

     According to social psychologist Phil Hammack, modern high schools are the hosts of a not-so-quiet sexual revolution. While conducting a study, he said LGBTQ+ high school students were “eager to participate” and he had no trouble finding students for the study. 

     “Socially, the stigma around alternate non-heterosexual lifestyles is what has driven people to feel confident enough that they can be who they are and not have severe repercussions, as it used to be,” said Dr. Joseph Sobel. “Adjusting social norms would really, in my mind, be the answer.”

     Sobel is a doctor at Blue Cross/Blue Shield Tennessee. In addition to social stigmas, he also believes that allowing children to freely discover their sexual orientation will benefit their mental health in the long run. According to Sobel, repressing children’s identities can go as far as to “arrest or suspend” their development or social skills.

     “It allows them to express who they are, just as any other developing youth that’s heterosexual would develop, and express who they are as a person,” Sobel said.

     Back in the high school environment, Roberts and Quinones both state that they are treated no different than their straight peers by either other students or teachers. The rise of clubs like the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and the like in schools have also allowed teachers to express their support for the community and their students.

     “I’ve never told a teacher, but usually they’re accepting,” said Roberts.

     GSA clubs have greatly contributed to the modern attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community, providing students with a safe and judgement-free space for them to be themselves. In the year 2000, over 700 GSA clubs were registered with the National Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Eighteen years later, the number had risen to 4,000.

     “Most of my friends are LGBTQ+,” Roberts said.

     However, the rise of the high school LGBTQ+ community doesn’t exactly discourage casual homophobia. According to a national survey of 3,700 Canadian high school students, around 70-percent of students heard homophobic slurs thrown around on a daily basis, some up to 15 times per class period. Fortunately, the amount of physical attacks on LGBTQ+ students has gone down, according to clinical social worker Caitlyn Ryan.

     “I know high schoolers who fetish it [the LGBTQ+ community], I know high schoolers who accept it, I know high schoolers who are for, I know high schoolers who are against,” Roberts said. “People have their own opinions.”

     At home, acceptance varies from household to household. However, homes located in more rural areas generally are less tolerant, while homes in urban areas tend to be more tolerant. According to Hammack, the voices of LGBTQ+ high schoolers in rural areas are ignored or not heard, simply because of the community they come from.

     “Generally they’re pretty understanding. I haven’t heard them say anything bad,” said Quinones.

     Representation in academia and media is huge for students beginning to discover their sexual orientation, because it allows them to have a host of characters to look up to and discuss it, just as their heterosexual peers do.

     “I think that all sides of a story should be education for our youth,” said Sobel.

     As acceptance for the community rises, so do the educational options for LGBTQ+ students, particularly mentorship programs. A study by Sharon Colvin found that students with caring, empathetic mentors were three times more likely to graduate high school than students who did not have the support of academic experts.

     “I am all for broad education so that social stigmas don’t develop,” Sobel said. “Because if it’s not weird, then people don’t make it a stigma.”