By Foster Milburn
I know from experience why LGBTQ youth need safe spaces in our public schools.
Growing up in rural Texas proved difficult during my youth because I realized I was different. That I liked boys. My family was Southern Baptist, so I grew up in a strict household. I didn’t have the luxury to come out, and most people who knew me had simply drawn their own conclusions by the time I was 10 years old.
I quickly realized my identity clashed with my background. Christian Nationalism is another thing without a face. It just makes its way into the different fabrics of our society. We never had school-sponsored prayer in the public school where I lived, but you could feel the educators and their own beliefs transcribed into the morals we were taught.
Looking back, I can still remember the other kids in 6th grade telling me that the boys in another corner of the cafeteria were talking about how I was gay. I was like, “Wait, I don’t even know if I am or what that even means.” So when it comes to sexuality, why aren’t these things taught to children so they better understand their peers? So that kids like 10-year-old Foster can understand what gay even means? How about making an educational system that is kid-friendly rather than forcing youngsters to hear about it from their peers before they know themselves? Isn’t that what education is about?
Blamed and shunned
Due to the rapid spread of news in a small town, I encountered teachers who tried to understand me and offer a gesture of support after I came out. Additionally, I encountered teachers who, after hearing other kids say I was gay, told me that discussing “gay” topics in school is immoral according to Christian beliefs. I was blamed and shunned for the discussion, not the other kids. It was a very confusing experience for me at the time, and I felt small as a result.
The basis of these laws that attempt to control teachers and what they teach falls directly under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights – freedom of speech and church-state separation. Several states, most recently Iowa, are trying to ban books or ban discussion of LGBTQ topics in classrooms. Instead of allowing children to be educated about the reality of diversity, Christian Nationalists prefer to ban topics that conflict with some people’s religious beliefs.
Rather than ban discussions about the history of queer and racial justice in public schools, let’s instead enforce the separation of church and state. That way, we can build an inclusive environment for all young people.
Foster Milburn is interning in Americans United’s Communications Department this summer.