I work with Queer and Trans young people all the time and what I see is a group that is so neglected, so absent from the table, that they are thrilled with just being invited into our spaces (even for the most ephemeral of reasons). I watched a high school aged Queer young person get so excited about having “found” an HRC sticker and they were doubly shocked that the adult that gave it to them would part with such a symbol of the community. Why is this young person so thrilled with this sticker you ask? Because they do not see examples of how Queer and Trans adults exist and because of this they will latch on to any examples of Queerness they can find, even something as base as that damn “Equality” sign. I wanted to run and snatch that sticker out of their hand and tell them that the HRC is not their community. That this organization is not the future and that the HRC has no room for Queer and Trans young people outside of a fundraising pamphlet. But how can I blame this young person for wanting something, anything that would mark them as part of the process or part of the community as an agent instead of a generalization.
When it comes to Queer youth we have settled for “shocked gasps” and tears instead of making real space for them. We continue to reproduce the most basic narrative of their existence and can only see them as victims of abuse or suicide. Do they really need us to keep crying for them? We have missed the point over and over again. The cycle of death and abuse doesn’t end when we “convince” Cis straight people that these young people need our help. The cycle doesn’t end when LGB groups memorialize them one day a year. The change comes when we STOP treating Queer and Trans young people like broken objects and starting treating them like part of the community. Deaths and abuse are terrible things, but so is a system we neglect to change while we sit in large rooms crying and not doing much else.
Queer and Trans young people don’t need our sympathy, what they need is our help. Our help as mentors, our help to show them how they fit into the community. The need our support in order to train them as leaders. They don’t need our sadness, they need us to give them hope and to show them purpose. They need us to dry our eyes and invite them to help us change a system, a world that works daily to destroy them and they need that help now.