My brother thinks I’m stuck in the past. He didn’t tell me that directly. But he did mention it on the phone recently with my kid Harry, who turned 29 this year. I laughed when Harry told me. Surely my frequent posts on social media of photos of Harry from toddler to teen prompted Uncle John’s comment. There were several on my Instagram last week honoring Harry’s dad’s awesomeness on Father’s Day. But here’s the thing: My past experience parenting a nonbinary child is most definitely someone’s present.
We’ve made a lot of progress understanding gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression. There are now some 200 LGBTQ characters on cable television and streaming services that have contributed to our collective knowledge.Still, there are adults who aren’t sure exactly what those three terms mean or how they differ. Many of the uninformed are the parents, family members and caregivers of children and teens who don’t fit into the two-option-only categories of gender and sexuality. Others will become their teachers or future employers.
We need to understand these LGBTQ kids, respect them, and make ways for them to belong just as they are. They’ve been around since the beginning of human existence. And I’d say they make up at least 20 percent of our population.
Here are some important trend statistics from studies in 2016-17:
- Only 48 percent of 13-20-year-olds (Generation Z) identify as “exclusively” straight, compared to 65 percent of millennials aged 21-34;
- More than a third of Generation Z believes that gender does not define a person as much as it used to, while only 28 percent of millennials felt the same way;
- Over half, 56 percent, of Gen Z say they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns such as “they/them,” compared to 43 percent of people 28-34 years old.
As for the millennial to baby boomer comparison:
- Twenty percent of millennials identify as something other than strictly straight and cisgender (someone whose gender lines up with the gender they were assigned at birth), compared with seven percent of baby boomers.
So it’s the boomers – and Gen X adults who followed them – that I’m determined to share my past with. They are the parents of a four-year-old transgender girl who had a very unhappy child until they allowed her to transition socially. Or the family of a bisexual teen who thought that meant he just hadn’t made up his mind about whom he was romantically attracted to. They are the head of a company who doesn’t think that transgender is “normal.” I’ve met them all. And as the parent of a nonbinary child, I understand their worries, their misunderstanding, their tendency to stereotype.
Here are some disturbing statistics from a 2017 Human Rights Campaign/University of Connecticut study of LGBTQ teens:
- More than 70 percent of LGBTQ teenagers report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;
- Only 26 percent say they always feel safe in their school classrooms — and just five percent say all of their teachers and school staff members are supportive of LGBTQ people;
- Sixty-seven percent report that they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people.
And then there are these startling statistics from a recent workplace study by the HRC:
- Forty-six percent of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work, compared to 50 percent in HRC’s groundbreaking 2008 report;
- One in five LGBTQ workers report having been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner;
- Fifty-three percent of LGBTQ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while;
- Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work.
The people that make up these statistics drive my work. Yes, I talk about my past and share the education I still get parenting a nonbinary child. And I do it because I want to help improve the lives of LGBTQ people right now. We all deserve to be our true selves at home, school and work. We all deserve to live happy, fulfilling lives.
My brother’s comment triggered this post. So I simply must share a past photo of him playing with toddler Harry, circa 1991. He was a great storyteller of magic bubble gum and flying cars. And still is.
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