My gay teen's coming out struggle just got 10 times harder
This weekend, many Americans woke up to news that the largest mass shooting in recent history had occurred the night before. As of now, the death count from the tragedy at Orlando's Pulse nightclub is 49, with many more in critical condition.
Mass shootings are nothing new in our country; it seems a week can’t go by without one being big news. Every parent I know has already had to talk to their kids, some as young as 5, about school shootings. It isn’t new for kids to wonder if they might be a target someday. Many of them have drills at school preparing them for the possibility. Violence is so embedded in our society that many children don’t even get to experience a couple of school years without the knowledge that they aren’t safe.
So, I’ve already had so many of those conversations with my teen daughter about guns and violence in America. But still, today I don’t know what I am going to say to her. This is different. It’s targeted against her community. It’s personal.
My daughter has been slowly finding her identity and coming out over the past year. It was only a month ago that she asked me to buy her a binder. She has told me that she is still figuring out who she is but that she knows she’s not cis (although she still prefers she/her pronouns for now) or straight. She hasn’t told anyone else in the family even though she’s never had any reason to believe they wouldn’t support her. Some of them are actually a part of the LGBTQIA community themselves.
But she’s lived in a world that has made her afraid to be herself openly. Like many others, she’s been depressed and had trouble fitting in at school. And why wouldn’t she when her world has been full of news that people like her are often not accepted at best — or hated at worst — just for being themselves? There’s news almost every week that another trans woman has been killed. And let’s not forget the wars being waged over inclusive restrooms, not just in Target, but in schools across the country.
She has seen all of this and has struggled, not only to be open about who she is with the people who love her, but to love herself. Because she already knows that there are people who hate her. What happened in Orlando isn’t going to bring that news to her door.
But now there is one less illusion of safety, because what was supposed to be a safe place was targeted. Having a community cannot protect her.
But she needs community, and I need to make sure this attack doesn’t keep her from seeking it out. Community will help her feel accepted, loved and supported in a society that still doesn’t make much space for anyone but cis straight people.
So instead of talking to her about all the things she already knows about gun violence, violence against the LGBTQIA community, bigotry and racism, I’m going to talk to her about community. I’m going to show her how people are supporting one another by sending love, donating blood and speaking out against not only homophobia and transphobia but Islamophobia and racism. I’m going to show her how queers are refusing to let anyone use this attack as an excuse for Islamophobia, not only in a stand against bigotry but as a stand with Muslim members of the community.
I’m going to tell her how much I want her to find the kind of strength community can give her. Numbers might not necessarily bring her absolute safety, but they’ll give her strength and support.
I’ll make sure she knows that even though LGBTQIA people still face bigotry, discrimination and violence in this country, there are many willing to take up the fight to make things better. And of course, she can be a part of that fight too someday — if she wants to. This attack won’t tear the community apart.
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