These honest, thought-provoking, poignant essays written by youth between the ages of 14 and 18 offer a first-hand account of the world of pain and alienation young people face when forced to live a secret life. But they also serve as a testament to the dedication, courage, and insight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and often their families and friends as well. The presence of these essays in Harvard Educational Review, as well as their prominent position in the journal, reflects the editors' commitment since the planning stages of this issue to include youth voices. It is a well-known irony that youth are rarely given a voice in setting educational policy, even though it greatly affects them. Youth are usually not invited to sit on school policymaking boards or town councils, nor are their thoughts or opinions regularly solicited. The editors of this Special Issue on Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender People and Education have purposefully sought to reverse this trend, as these youth have powerful lessons to teach the adults around them — their parents, teachers, neighbors, and ministers.
In their essays and conversations, these young writers talk about their lack of power in their schools and family lives. Like most writers, they were excited to have their writing published in a national journal. For several, however, the celebration was bittersweet. Some of these writers have not been able to celebrate with their families because the topic is considered taboo within their family context. Unfortunately, their families are missing out on a special moment in these young people's lives. As one young author said, "A lot of us are disappointed in our parents these days." Two questions asked by the youth during the editorial process are indicative of their longing to be taken seriously. One youth asked, "Did the majority of the Editorial Board support my submission?" while another queried, "How do the editors interpret the connection between my essay and education?" Both of these young people wanted to ensure that their stories would be treated as essential and not peripheral. These essays give us some insight into the variety of experiences and responses that young people have when they, a friend, or a family member is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
In "The Phone Call," Joy C. shares her wish that someday her mother will "realize that [her] lesbianism is just one part of a complex whole — something that has contributed to [her] identity and broadened [her] horizons." Joy relates that coming out as a lesbian to her parents has "taught me to respect the strength it takes to be myself when so many stand against me."
Kathryn Zamora-Benson bravely opens herself to her schoolmates and teachers in her "Celebrate Humanity Day Speech." By raising questions and confronting issues, she appeals to students and teachers to look inwardly at their "fears, ignorance, and indifference" toward homosexuality, and challenges them to confront both their personal beliefs and their part in creating the larger school culture.
Mandy's poem, "A Search for the Answer," shows her attempt to understand why people inflict pain and suffering on others or do hurtful things to those who are different than themselves. She calls attention to how slowly her own wounds are healing and issues a plea to readers to think about their actions towards others.
In "Livin' in a Gay Family," Megan McGuire reminds us that homophobia affects not only youth who are themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, but also youth who have a family member or friend who is. Megan, the daughter of a lesbian mother, shares the many dimensions of her own coming out process — a coming out not about her own sexuality but rather her struggle to be able to speak truthfully about her two moms.
In "A Queer Youth," Paul Cottell Jr. challenges all of us, whatever our sexuality, to question the use of labels such as "gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual." Paul acknowledges that while these labels may help some people identify who they are, they are also problematic in that they may make people feel trapped. Paul uses the more inclusive term "queer," a word that has historically been used against homosexuals but has been reclaimed by the gay community in order to acknowledge the diversity of their community. Paul also talks about the difficulties of affirming oneself as both queer and Christian.
In "Returned Letters," Rachel speaks about an incident that forced her to confront her silence about her lesbianism. She tells this story "not because the world lacks stories, but because it lacks the stories I care about." Rachel's heartfelt essay helps us understand what it's like to long for a place "where you don't have to lie anymore."
Finally, Schuyler Pisha, a youth who identifies as heterosexual, shares with us his experiences — and some of his photographs — as a member of a photography project about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Through his work on this project, Schuyler learned about the rich diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth community and came to deplore their too common experience of not feeling safe to be themselves at school or at home. He says the main lesson he takes away from the photography project is to change "the topic of sexual orientation from something seen as dirty and shameful to something that needs to be openly discussed in schools and other places where learning occurs."
All of these young writers are connected with an adult who is a teacher, mentor, and friend. Karen Anna, Director of Bridges in Paia, Hawaii; Bea Doyle, a teacher at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Al Ferreira, a teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Kate Scott, a teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are the adults who have given these youth acceptance, support, and a safe place in which they can explore issues, ask questions, and learn to be themselves.
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