A couple days ago I attended a youth group for students ages 14-16 as a part of my internship working with a local British politics. The group—called the Young Mayor’s Council—aimed to get young people interested in politics and leadership.
I loved it—even if I sat in the corner feeling old next to all the fourteen-year-olds. I liked listening to the things they had to say, which were much more insightful than anything I could have come up with when I was their age.
February is LGBTQ history month in the UK. At the meeting, an educator from an LGBTQ advocacy organization came in to present to the students about labels, the power of language, and being an ally.
The students raised their hands as he spoke, brought up their own opinions, shared personal experiences and things they’d heard in the hallways at school. I was sad to hear that many of them still hear the phrase: “that’s gay.”
Many of the students—even one girl who identified as bisexual—said they used to use that phrase and not even think about what it meant or the impact until they learned more.
That’s why we need talk about these issues, so we can make changes—both individually and culturally.
As he went through the presentation, I realized that he was being much more honest with this room full of teenagers than anyone ever was with me when I was in high school.
Overall, I notice that in the UK people are much more honest than in the US. Before I joined social justice circles, looked for spaces to learn about these issues, and took courses in college, I didn’t know about any of these things. No one told fourteen-year-old me that being bisexual was a thing, or that you didn’t even have to subscribe to a particular label, or that someone could be transgender or gender fluid. In fact, no class I ever took even acknowledged that LBGT people exist.
Here’s what I thought the overall message of the presentation was:
When it comes to labels, it’s not about separating people, or singling them out as being different, it’s about changing the meaning of the word.
I think I really could have benefited from learning that when I was younger, I would have been so much more aware. I would have been able to make some changes and be a better ally to the LGBT people in my life.
You can’t fix social issues if the people and educators around you tell you they aren’t there—either verbally or by not talking about it at all.
During the presentation the educator even mentioned the word misogyny.
What? Misogyny? That’s a real thing that we should talk to fourteen-year-olds about?
He asked the group: If women don’t label themselves as women and be proud that they are women, how can we end misogyny and sexism?
I didn’t know what misogyny was until about two years ago. I didn’t understand that sexism was alive and thriving and that it had an impact on my life until I was eighteen. I grew up surrounded by post-racial rhetoric and the idea that (gender) inequality was a thing of the past.
This really limited how much I could learn and stopped me from being able to change things.
We need to be more real with kids and teenagers—they can handle it. They need to know there’s still issues to be talked about and work to be done.