(Originally written and posted for Pride Week on E. K. Anderson’s blog.)
I once overheard someone say that Pride Week was a giant party and why wasn’t there a party for them (heterosexuals). It may look like a party—we certainly work hard at celebrating and connecting with friends and loved ones, and at being proud of who we are—but many of us in the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning) community have faced homophobia, harassment, hatred, hate violence, and some have even been murdered. It can be a struggle to be who we are in the face of hate and discrimination. It gets even harder when we are isolated or lack support, and especially for teens who may lack community and resources.
Many LGBTQ teens are afraid to come out to their families or friends because they may be bullied, attacked, kicked out of their families and homes, or killed. Even in the US, Canada, and the UK, there are still queer youth (and adults) who are stalked, bullied, harassed, beaten, raped, and/or murdered for who we are and who we love. In at least seventy countries, it’s still a crime to be gay. Just being a teen is hard enough, with the social pressures to conform and to be liked, never mind the added pain if you’ve experienced bullying or abuse. Add in homophobia, and it’s no wonder that LGB youth are four times as likely to try to kill themselves.
Every questioning and LGBTQ teen should have a safe place to explore and grow into their own sexuality, to be able to feel good about it and celebrate it, rather than fear the reaction of their parents, friends, or the world around them.
For some, Pride Week may be the first time they see that they’re not alone; that they see themselves in a positive light without hatred, disgust, or shame; that they can hold their lover’s hand in public without fear of backlash; or that they feel a real sense of safety, community, and belonging.
But LGBTQ Pride Week—one week out of the year—isn’t enough. We all need to see ourselves reflected in popular culture—through books, comics, TV shows, movies, magazines, and ads—to help us know that we’re not alone, that we’re okay as we are, and for LGBTQ people especially to help fight homophobia and embrace who we are. There are some LGBTQ media, but not enough to reflect our real world, and teens in isolated or conservative areas or with homophobic parents or communities may have a hard time finding resources.
Many queer and questioning teens don’t have support around them, don’t have anyone they can talk to, and books may be their first or only way to find someone—a character—like them. I think we need many more LGBTQ books, and especially lesbian and trans books (I’ve found there are usually more gay-focused than lesbian books available). Books where the teen characters are simply LGBTQ, and the story line is about another issue (which helps normalize us), as well as more YA LGBTQ romance. Books that I hope any reader will want to pick up, regardless of their sexuality. Hey, I read books with both heterosexual and LGBTQ characters all the time; I don’t discriminate based on sexuality. I just enjoy a good book.
I make sure to have LGBTQ characters in all the books I write, whether they are the main character or secondary characters. It’s important to me. As a queer teen, I struggled to find lesbian characters in books, movies, and TV where the lesbians didn’t kill themselves or end up unhappy. I found very few—only one teen book that had a lesbian character that I can remember—Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. This has changed over the years; there are more LGBTQ YA books now, but there still aren’t enough, and in so many books even LGBTQ background characters are mysteriously missing. I have been delighted to see more and more heterosexual writers bring LGBTQ characters into their books. I hope someday soon we’ll see a greater number of books reflecting the world we live in, with characters who are LGBTQ, and of different cultures and races, disabilities and abilities, mental health issues, and everything that makes up all of us.
Books give hope. I desperately needed books that reflected my experiences as a queer abused teen; they helped me survive. And books can save lives. And I know that from the many reader letters I’ve received; many tell me that after reading one of my books it’s the first time they talked to someone about being queer, or abused, or even that my book kept them from killing themselves. If you are or know someone who is part of the LGBTQ community, I hope you’ll buy, read, or give some YA LGBTQ books.
You can find many here:
GAY YA: LGBTQIA+ Characters In Young Adult Fiction;
LGBT YA. via YA author Malinda Lo;
A Guide To YA Novels With LGBT Characters via YALSA;
I’m Here, I’m Queer, What The Hell Do I Read? via Lee Wind;
Wrapped Up In Books: LGBTQ YA Fiction 2015; and
LGBT YA Reviews.
I hope you accept and celebrate who you are and who you love, help others do the same, and find many people who love and accept you for the beautiful person you are.
Happy Pride Month! I hope you feel pride and joy about who you are all year long.
If you need to talk to someone:
International crisis and suicide helplines