Youth act up, youth fight back for LGBTQIA+ justice in Detroit
Photos by Ali Lapetina
Since this blog was published the DPSCD school board has voted to officially recognize Pride Month. Read more here.
On June 1, 2022, I walked through the halls of Cass Tech draped with 11 vibrant colors wrapped around my body. Throughout the day, I witnessed many different reactions when showing my pride: cheers, compliments, and eyes glistening to the mere exposure of representation. On the contrary, I also witnessed stares, whispers, and gossip roaming through the four walls that I call school. It did not end there.
As a queer woman of color, I felt speechless, weak, and frightened. As a youth activist and community organizer, I felt emboldened to tell my story and advocate for safe, inclusive schools in Detroit.
I mobilized with other youth activists and organizers across Detroit to target Florida HB 1557, universally known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which would restrict the topics of gender identity and sexuality in school classrooms. “Sexist, racist, anti-gay, born-again bigots go away,” echoed throughout Downtown Detroit by dozens of students, children, educators, and allies that took on Woodward to defend queer and trans rights in Florida. But the question remains: What about Detroit? Is Detroit serving its LGBTQIA+ youth? How can we support youth who want to create inclusive spaces?
Though Detroit is considerably racially progressive, homophobia and transphobia are common. As a queer student, it should not be my responsibility to guide my peers and teachers to unlearn homophobia and transphobia; it is mentally exhausting.
We are not taught queer history nor queer liberation in school. Neither were our teachers. Historical background about the queer community is absent in K-12 education–the history of the pride flag, the Stonewall Riots, the fight for the legalization of gay marriage, and the history behind pride are just a few of many historical movements and events that we do not learn about. We are also not taught the meaning of different gender identities and sexualities, which makes it harder for students to discover who they are. Although my generation is consuming media that openly discusses queer and trans history, the same could not be said for the older generation of educators that still inhabit classroom spaces. As a result, this leads to unsafe classroom environments for LGBTQIA+ youth. I am one of many youth who continues to experience this.
Unfortunately, homophobia, transphobia, and LGBTQIA+ discrimination are prevalent in schools across the country. As a student at Detroit Public Schools Community District, I have rarely witnessed students finding the courage to be openly queer and trans, or even openly wearing the flag. Rather, I have witnessed slurs, insults, the fetishization of lesbians, and stereotypes circulating in classrooms. It is overwhelming and mentally exhausting to continuously defend myself and my community while organizing and advocating for change. According to the Trevor Project, an estimate of more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24 years old) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The mental health of young people weakens as homophobia and transphobia strengthen. Every school should make an effort to advance equity in education for all students.
I may have found the courage to walk through my school draped in my pride flag, but the truth is that most students do not feel safe enough to. Our schools must become a reflection of the diverse identities they are filled with. As a queer activist, I will continue advocating for inclusive schools. Pride Month should be acknowledged and celebrated—especially on our school calendars. In fact, at the next DPSCD Regular Board Meeting on Tuesday, July 12th from 5:30 – 8:00pm, the DPSCD school board will vote on whether they will recognize Pride Month on its academic calendar. I urge students to speak at the board meeting, I urge parents to support their children, I urge teachers to show up and celebrate their queer and trans students, and most importantly, I urge board members to vote yes and recognize Pride Month for the upcoming school year.
I hope that, one day, Pride Month is celebrated in our schools, rainbows fill the fractures in our walls, and every queer student’s voice is elevated in classrooms, in communities, and in policy-making.
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This blog was filled with truth, and truth only. As I read, I’ve realized & related to many of the things said. It is truly unfortunate that this is something that needs to be fought for, but nonetheless, I am so proud of our youth activist & community organizer, Hafiza Khalique for not giving up!