2018-2019 Deirdre Furr Essay Contest, Second Place Essay

By Hannah Richner

The Silenced Words of Acceptance

Many schools across the nation can be found with classrooms featuring a rainbow themed "safe space" sticker to recognize support and lgbtq+ inclusiveness. Our school however, is not one of them, and as of October 8th 2018, all lgbtq+ related signs and safe space stickers have been banned all together. This action taken to ban any signs of support has made the already heavy burden of being an lgbtq+ youth, living in Texas, an even more isolating experience.

Lgbtq+ students met with the faculty and staff of Cedar Ridge on the 8th of October for a panel discussing the different set of barriers one may have to overcome in high school as a minority in the population. Instead of making progress with the staff, a divide was created making the students feel as though the faculty is not supporting them in anyway compared to other students in our school. This divide is not only unhealthy for an inclusive school environment, but may completely shut out students who only have school to turn to as a safe place. According to the True Colors Fund, "40% of the homeless youth in America identify as lgbtq+, while only 7% of America's youth identifies as lgbtq+"(Hall). These numbers indicate the great disparities that many lgbtq+ students face by simply being themselves.

Such an effortless thing, like a sticker, can save the life of a child. Not everyone is facing these horrible conditions of homelessness, but many face daily accounts of mental and physical abuse that can lead to self harm attempts and even the death of that child."In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death for all youth 10-14 years and 15-24 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"(Chelvakumar). Youth in the lgbtq+ community face a suicide rate three times more likely of those who identify as heterosexual. Within the past month 1 in 6 lgbtq+ youth have attempted suicide at least once and those are of the ones reported. When you hear these statistics, don't think about the kids that may be around the nation, think about the youth in your community up against these numbers and hope to come to school to learn and enjoy friendships rather then be bullied and harassed about something they have no control over.

When we questioned the administration's decision to remove all lgbtq+ related signs, we were told that some facility would feel targeted if they didn't show support or didn't want to put up a sticker. This is simply not the case, everyone knows that certain staff members promote specific programs or clubs, you wouldn't go to the basketball coach with questions about the fashion club, or vise versa. "In 1998 the murder of college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, shocked the country. His death and the trial of his killers led to protests and calls for changes to hate crime laws so that they included LGBTQ individuals"(According"LGBTQ Rights). It took the brutal killing and assault of a young college student for our country to open its eyes regarding hate crime against lgbtq+ members; what more does the school need in order for administration to take the safety of these minority students into consideration? For those who truly need someone to talk to it won't matter to them which teacher they are not having those life saving conversations with. In moments like that, one good connection is what is most important and the removal of all support makes finding that connection nearly impossible in such a large facility.

The staff and administration of schools are called to guide students and young adults into a very busy and at times overwhelming world through education and acceptance, if the faculty refuses to support a minority at such a risk of danger, then the system all together has failed. No one should be forced to have one opinion over the other, but shutting down the voices of the students and their attempts to make a connection, is causing more harm then one can truly imagine. "LGBTQ youth in particular may have concerns of family or provider rejection, and they may look for cues that they can safely discuss their sexuality or gender identity without fear of being judged or shamed" (Chelvakumar). Clinical reports have proven that lgbtq+ youth face mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, due to lack of "safe space". These signs can easily make the difference in a child’s life, students are always being told that communication is the key to success, but as of now, the administration is telling both the teachers and students that communication is not wanted with such topics no matter how relevant to the students life. Banning the safe space stickers is like removing the life vest from a growing child trying to survive in the crashing waves of the ocean. If the school policies do not change for the benefit of the student population, providing a safe and open community where acceptance is a shared value instead of a miracle, the lives of lgbt+ youth will continue to build on these horrifying statistics.