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Put Some Respect On LGBTQ+ Youth’s Pronouns

Jennifer Lopez announced her child Emme using they/them pronouns.

In front of a sold-out stadium she stated:

“The last time we performed together was in a big stadium like this and I ask them to sing with me all the time, and they won’t. So this is a very special occasion. They are very, very busy. Booked. And pricey…They cost me when they come out. But they’re worth every single penny because they’re my favorite duet partner of all time. So if you will indulge me.”

The internet went abuzz with praise for Lopez publicly acknowledging Emme’s pronouns. Being LGBTQ+ is nothing new and the use of pronouns is becoming more widely seen, accepted and acknowledged—but not by all. Despite the progress being made in many areas of LGBTQ+ livelihood, we still have a long way to go in protecting LGBTQ+ youth and adults in a society that is hell-bent on trying to erase our existence.

According to the 2020 census, nearly 15% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+—a number that is constantly increasing year to year. From 2020 to 2022, the number of people in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ+ has also ticked up from 5.6% to 7.1%. These numbers would likely be even higher if all felt safe to identify as such. While visibility and representation continue to rise for LGBTQ+ people, so does the erasure of our rights with many of those directly targeting LGBTQ+ youth.

This year in Florida, Governor Ron Desantis enacted a bill known as “Don’t Say Gay,” restricting educators’ ability to discuss LGBTQ+ issues. This attempt at erasure strives to take us back to a time when being LGBTQ+ was not only seen as a mental illness but heavily criminalized. This week, we even saw Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas make a veiled threat that marriage equality could also be reversed someday following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. This coincides with a nationwide book ban that is removing many queer texts from school libraries with some states pushing for laws to criminalize educators who give out the materials.

It is why public statements like that of Lopez are pivotal to the work being done to protect LGBTQ+ youth while creating safety and equity for their daily lives. We can look at Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade’s parenting style as they raise Zaya, their transgender daughter, in the public eye. Zaya is often met with hateful posts and comments and their family is constantly under attack. Despite this, the parenting model they are creating to shift the culture provides a beautiful example of parenting from an unconditional lens.

You will often hear people say “I just want a healthy child.” However, that thought around health doesn’t seem to extend to a child who is born non-heterosexual. Oftentimes, many just assume that their children will fit into societal structures for being a boy or a girl without ever processing that this notion isn’t based on fact, but on ideology. A forced ideology that harms children who innately show up as they are and deserve the space to be who they are just like their heterosexual counterparts.

As someone who uses they/them pronouns as an adult, it is important that we continue to see more examples of nurturing the child that we have, rather than forcing the child to fit into societal norms based on the binary of girl and boy. I was raised in a family that didn’t have the correct language and pronouns. But what I lacked in resources to know what I was dealing with, was made up with the love and care from my family who continue to support my journey through my identity.

Unfortunately, we also know that having love at home is simply not enough. We can look at situations like that of Nigel Shelby, where he was certainly loved by his mother and his family, but struggled to find that same love, support and safety when outside of his home—the thing that ultimately led to his passing. Stories like these serve as reminders that there is still so much more work to be done when making society a place where queer youth have a future.

Despite these unfortunate truths, we must remain fervent as LGBTQ+ advocates to continue doing the work to change societal binaries that exclude LGBTQ+ people—and that starts with the youth. Empowering them as THEY are rather than forcing them into boxes and constructs, allows them to create a world very different from the deadly world many LGBTQ+ people have been forced to live in.

It brings a smile to my face to see a parent loving their child as they are. More parents and guardians need to be an example of the change, rather than arbitrators of destroying queer children’s lives. We can no longer debate if it’s acceptable to be LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ youth are here and are not going anywhere. Now we must fight for them to have a world much better than one that has been handed to us.

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