'I really appreciate you being there for me': The importance of LGBTQ role models
It's become a lot more common for young LGBTQ people to see themselves represented in media.
Just look at the variety of streaming shows right now with "Gentleman Jack," "Heartstopper," and "RuPaul's Drag Race." These are programs where people can see themselves, and their potential future, represented and celebrated.
But just because you see a part of yourself represented on the big screen, doesn't mean you feel welcome within your own community.
RadioActive Youth Media's Antonio Nevarez shares the story of a teen who grew up in a community where being LGBTQ wasn't widely accepted, and how a role model encouraged them to be proud of who they are.
[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]
t's prom season, and my friends are looking for outfit inspiration. We're looking at the dress that actress and transgender activist Hunter Schaefer wore to the Met Gala. It's shiny and futuristic looking, and my friend Micky is planning on recreating the dress.
Micky is openly gay, and non-binary. Seeing LGBTQ+ people in the media like Schaefer is inspiring to them. They feel seen.
"To me, representation is like painting the picture of what a gay person is. And without that, you can't really understand what a gay person is," Micky told me.
To Micky, LGBTQ+ representation can take a lot of different forms. It could look like pride flags waving in the air, non-binary pronouns like they/them displayed on a facemask, or watching gay characters on TV.
But Micky didn't grow up seeing that representation in their day-to-day life. Being from Greenville, South Carolina, it was actually rare for Micky to see positive, affirming LGBTQ+ representation. Sometimes, when someone did bring up the LGBTQ+ community, it was to say something rude or offensive. And at times, it made Micky feel unsafe.
"I was scared of being like judged, definitely in public, Micky said. There's a lot of hate groups down there. And so I could have definitely been like, beaten up for being gay."
That doesn't mean there aren't gay communities in South Carolina though. Before Micky moved to Washington state, they were able to be part of a small LGBTQ community in their school.
n Seattle, where Micky now lives, they see pride flags everywhere they go, and their new school has a large open LGBTQ+ community.
"That was really surprising for me, seeing a young kid in like middle school, being gay or being trans," Micky said. "Kids out here are being accepted for who they are."
But in some schools across the nation, that open LGBTQ+ expression could change under new laws like Florida's parental rights education bill, also known as the "Don't say gay" bill.
Young people that are gay or may be questioning their gender identity may not be able to talk to their teachers or classmates about what they're going through. Young LGBTQ+ people may not get the support that they need.
Before Micky came out, they had a lot of questions. There wasn't anyone within their school that they could talk to about what they were going through, but they still found an adult they could depend on: their uncle Jed.
Like Micky, Jed grew up in South Carolina and is openly gay. But the two of them grew up in different times. Micky had LGBTQ+ role models to look to on TV and in music.
For Jed, gay acceptance was almost non-existent when he was growing up. He was told to "pray it away" and was even sent to conversion camp to try and cure his homosexuality. This practice is now banned in several states, including Washington.
"No amount of praying, no amount of service, no amount of therapy 'fixed it,' Jed said. "This is the way that I was made. There's a verse of scripture that says 'You are fearfully and wonderfully made.' And I had to accept that I was fearfully and wonderfully made this way."
uring their sophomore year of high school, Micky decided it was time to come out to their parents. They felt like they needed guidance, so they pulled out their phone and messaged Jed on Instagram.
"I said 'Hey Jed, I need advice. I'm bisexual, and I don't know how to come out to my parents.'"
Knowing how loving and accepting Micky's parents are, Jed sent back a reply.
"If there's ever parents to come out to, you have them."
Even though this was a quick exchange online, it was enough to make Micky feel better about coming out. Just having an adult in their life to turn to for support was more than enough for Micky. This is what young LGBTQ+ people may lose if more bills like Florida's "Don't say gay" become law.
And by limiting how gay people can talk about their identities, we run the risk of losing precious relationships between young LGBTQ+ and their mentors.
Before Micky wrapped up their conversation with Jed, they wanted to thank him.
"I never really said that I appreciated you being there for me when I needed you. You're the only gay person that I knew that was an adult in South Carolina. It was nice to have you there, and I really appreciate you being there for me."
Being there for Micky during their coming out journey was also an affirmative experience for Jed.
"It was a big step for, for me to come out even in my mid 30s. But I realized when I did, how immediately it impacted others like you and so I'm so glad I did," Jed said. "Because if it helped you, then that was all worth it."
From pop stars to scientists, community activists to educators, role models can take so many shapes and forms. But for Micky, their role model will always take the shape of their uncle Jed.
This story was created in KUOW's RadioActive Advanced Producer Workshop for high school and college students, with production support from Noel Gasca and Kelsey Kupferer. Prepared for the web by Noel Gasca. Edited by Joshua McNichols.
Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.
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