Yesterday Vermont’s youth woke up to the President of the United States vowing to ban transgender military members from serving our country. His premise: They are too costly, too disruptive, and too burdensome. For trans youth, it means their world has been diminished by the most powerful public official in the country. Along with the recent withdrawal of federal protections to trans students in public schools, and the Department of Justice recommending an end to Title VII protections from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, the message is clear: As a trans person, you are not welcome in public life. Not in school, not at work, not in service to your country. While Outright works to help youth create a world where they are valued and validated, a tweetstorm from the Oval Office tries to shred that vision.
You may have heard of the It Gets Better Project, an upbeat messaging campaign directed toward queer and trans youth. The alarming fact that queer and trans youth are more than 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender peers inspired celebrities to croon “It gets better!” on video blogs, writers to launch think pieces, and schools to plaster the slogan on their walls as a signal of solidarity. “It gets better,” youth are told when they start to feel hopeless in a social context bent on framing their existence as burdensome, disruptive, and costly.
Our mission at Outright Vermont is to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth through age 22. We know that it doesn’t get better without action. We recognize the collective responsibility to make it better by working with adults in schools, providing peer-led groups for youth and their families, and developing comprehensive supports wherever youth need them. The weight of the responsibility to make it better feels crushing in a time when executive officials strip away support for trans youth in schools. A time when the Commander in Chief starts the day by telling tens of thousands of transgender military service members that they are burdensome, disruptive and costly. That their service and sacrifice is not welcome.
Policies influence social context. Published, peer reviewed research shows that “implementation of same-sex marriage policies was associated with a significant decrease in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide.” It stands to reason that statements issued from the office of the presidency, whether rescinding rights for trans youth in schools or calling trans military service members a burden, negatively impact the environments queer and trans youth have to navigate every day.
Vermont has been at the fore of many social issues, but we know from listening to Vermont’s queer and trans youth that we have much more work to do. We have an opportunity to create a culture that values and that affirms people for who they are – in a time when the most visibly powerful among us actively undermine that work. Central to that effort is supporting our most vulnerable youth in schools and in their communities.
We are working toward a world where any youth who is questioning identity has access to a space where they can find community, connection, and belonging, which we know are the best protective factors to promote overall health and well-being.
We need your help to create a culture where queer and trans youth can thrive. This is the vital work, and it cannot be done in silence or silos. Allyship is signaled by action: We need your help to make it better. Do you pull for queer and trans youth? Now is the time to show it.