Anamaria Santiago currently teaches literature and composition courses at UAB. She has been on staff at Anytown Alabama for numerous years and was honored to serve as an Anytown Alabama co-director in 2013 and will serve in this role again in 2014.
The exhibit, held at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and presented by Birmingham AIDS Outreach, Magic City Acceptance Project and Living in Limbo, features 12 local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth (ages 15-23) and their personal narratives.
Here are 12 reasons you should visit this exhibit:
1. The photographs, taken by Carolyn Sherer, are stunning, and the youth are bold, beautiful and so super stylish—you might forget you’re not looking at runway photos.
2. For each of these vocal, daring individuals, there are hundreds of other youth forced to live in the shadows. Let’s show them that all of their stories have value.
3. Family does “matter,” and all of the youth write about their families. Whether detailing a letter to a supportive sibling or describing a mother’s evolution from discomfort to support, each narrative reveals how crucial families can be in building up or tearing down a young person’s self-value. In fact, the Family Acceptance Project’s study revealed that gay or transgender teens highly rejected by their families were “more than 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide…[and] more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs” than their highly accepted counterparts. They are also more likely to contract HIV and STDs.
4. Community matters, too. More than 17,000 people visited “Living in Limbo.” That number is exciting, considering we’re in the Deep South, but there are 200,000+ people in Birmingham. We can and should do better than that for our youth.
5. LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience bullying. According to a Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) survey, 63.5 percent of LGBTQ youth didn’t feel safe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 43.9 percent felt unsafe because of their gender expression. Further, 81.9 percent had been verbally harassed, 38.3 percent had been physically harassed, and 18.3 percent had been physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.
6. Our LGBTQ youth need adult allies. According to the aforementioned study, 56.9 percent of students heard negative remarks about gender expression from the adults at their schools! And 36.7 percent of students who reported incidents of harassment said that nothing was done in response. No wonder 60.4 percent of mistreated students don’t report the incidents to school staff.
7. Unsafe schools=reluctant students. The GLSEN study found that 29.8 percent of their respondents had skipped class because of fears for their safety, and 31.8 percent had skipped at least one entire day.
8. LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, whereas the general youth population is only about 10 percent LGBTQ.
9. These youth are more at risk for homelessness for a number of reasons. The National Coalition for the Homeless claims that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as heterosexual, cisgender youth to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12. A web-based survey revealed that 46 percent of homeless LGBTQ youth ran away because of family rejection, 43 percent were forced to leave home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and 32 percent fled home because of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
10. Homeless LGBTQ youth experience sexual violence more often than heterosexual youth; The National Coalition for the Homeless asserts that “about 59 percent of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have been sexually victimized compared to about 33 percent of heterosexual youth experiencing homelessness.”
11. “Through Positive Eyes,” featuring photos taken by HIV-positive individuals around the world, follows the exhibit. Powerful on their own, the images are even more striking because of their placement after images of LGBTQ youth, who are more at risk for contracting the illness.
12. The exhibit ends June 9!
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