Building Self-Confidence in LGBTQ Youth to Disempower Hate

NIOS is publishing blogs with the voices of LGBTQ students, teachers and community members weekly through Gay and Lesbian Pride month in June. This is the second blog post in our series. Please share these stories on Facebook and retweet them for everyone to join the powerful movement of equality that crosses all races, religions and nationalities.

 By Jorge Valencia
 
“Friends of mine have been shoved when they kissed their same-sex partners on campus.”   
 
“The rainbow gay flag hanging from my dorm window was shot-at with paintballs.”
 
“I was pushed to the ground and called a f---ing f----t.”
 
These are just a few incidents I’ve heard from students at some of the best and supposedly “progressive” colleges in America. It disturbs me terribly because in this day and age, no lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) young person should have to experience such hate. Compared to when I came out as gay 22 years ago, we have made tremendous progress toward building a more accepting world—one where LGBTQ youth should feel empowered and look to each other as role models.
Thankfully, many LGBTQ young people today do feel empowered. They are standing up and declaring, “This is who I am. I deserve to be happy. And I deserve to live my life in a way that makes me happy.” They are not letting hate hold them back and keep them from living their truth of being who they are.  
 
Of course there are many young people who still experience hate and bigotry every day. Even if they say they don’t let it get to them, I know hate takes a toll on even the bravest and strongest of us. It is estimated that LGBTQ young people are three times as likely as their peers to drop out of high school (often because they feel unsafe), and many who drop out do not get a GED, let alone go on to college.  
 
That is why it’s so important for young people to find role models who have confronted and overcome adversity through strength and motivation. They need role models to tell them, “Don’t give up on a single opportunity—especially a good education—that belongs to you. You can succeed.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”
 
If the media presented more stories about all the LGBTQ young people who overcome adversity to build happy and healthy lives, we would see much different—and much better—statistics about LGBTQ youth. Why? Because those young people who are feeling alone and helpless would find strength in the example of what young people like themselves are able to accomplish. They would feel inspired and empowered.
 
Too often LGBTQ young people’s doubts about themselves holds them back from improving their lives—doubts instilled and encouraged by the hateful messages they have experienced. When you treat a young person like they’re less than deserving or human, they begin to doubt their own abilities. Far too many will even doubt they deserve anything positive or good at all.
 
I too have struggled with doubts and fear, leading me to search for role models of strength and inspiration. I look to people who are fighters. I look to the experiences and words of people who have had to confront struggles of their own, who overcame loss and then were able to go on and celebrate a personal victory of growth and achievement in the face of adversity.
 
Yet to truly build confidence in LGBTQ young people, they need more than just being told to look to others for inspiration. They need to know their peers are looking to them as a source of strength, and looking to them to be role models for how to fight against hate and self-doubt. It is crucial these young people come to recognize that they have the power to not only change their own lives, but empower others to do the same. We need to instill in LGBTQ young people important truths such as:
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support, and don’t be afraid to offer it.
  • Building each other up and working as a community strengthens us as individuals.
  • Make sure to find inspiration in people around you—and be someone others can find inspiration in.
  • Your accomplishments renew your own strength and give strength to others.
  • Make a promise with your friends to keep each other safe from the ravages of fear and doubt.
What nuggets of advice and words of encouragement would you give young people, especially LGBTQ youth, to help build their confidence? Share them here AND with the young people around you. They will carry your advice forward, inspiring their peers to find strength and confidence in themselves, and in each other.
 
Jorge Valencia has served since 2007 as the Executive Director & CEO of Point Foundation, which empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential ­ despite the obstacles often put before them ­ to make a significant impact on society. Before coming to Point Foundation, Jorge was the President and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

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