We’ve all heard it: Young people are ungrateful, entitled, and selfish. They don’t know what it means to struggle and what it took to win rights for LGBTQ people and to win marriage equality. But isn’t that the point of civil rights movements? So that future generations don’t have to experience the same struggles the previous generation went through?
I’ve noticed something about the Parkland Students leading the charge for common sense gun reform: LGBTQ students are taking charge.
Emma Gonzalez, who is openly bisexual and president of her school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), has become one of the high-profile activists for the #NeverAgain movement. She points to her experiences coming out and leading her school’s GSA as intertwined in her drive to make the world a better, safer place. As she has told Yahoo Lifestyle:
It’s really helped me get used to shifting plans very quickly, planning in advance, and also being flexible … understanding that maybe you organize a club meeting with this one person in mind and they just don’t come because they aren’t coming to school, and you can’t get upset… Because most of the kids in GSA either have depression or they’re dealing with a lot of stuff at home, and I can understand that. And there are so many people in the country who are dealing with that, in relation to gun violence. You have no idea. You don’t know how many people you talk to on a daily basis that have actually been shot before, or have lost someone through gun violence. With GSA it’s the same. Everything’s incredibly far-reaching and widespread.
Among the other LGBTQ activist leaders are Cameron Kasky and Sarah Chadwick.
The Parkland Students were most likely just starting high school when the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, occurred — about 3 hours away.
We should also note that LGBTQ people are particularly affected by gun violence. On the Gays Against Guns website, they provide:
The epidemic of gun violence disproportionately affects LGBTQ people. Most gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides and LGBTQ people are overrepresented among suicide victims. LBG youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide and 92% of them attempted suicide by age 25 (The Trevor Project). Suicide attempts with guns are overwhelmingly lethal (Harvard School of Public Health).
LGBTQ people are also the most likely minority to be the victim of a hate crime (The New York Times). Up until the Las Vegas massacre in October, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which was space for LGBTQ people of color. Queer people continue to be unduly vulnerable to gun violence, especially in the swell of prejudice-based hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump (California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism).
Granted, LGBTQ young people aren’t the only ones leading the charge. But the ones on the front lines, like Emma Gonzalez, Sarah Chadwick, and Cameron Kasky are showing that not only is a good, public and civics-oriented education a means of preserving and saving American Democracy, but that inclusion, open expression, and leadership development and activism outlets such as Gay Straight Alliances (with the help of organizations like GLSEN, parents and school staff) help produce powerful advocates and activists.