In mid-November, the Colorado State Board of Education voted 4-to-3 to restore many of the educational materials of specific marginalized groups, including the history of LGBTQ people, for all grade levels as part of the state’s social studies standards. We are writing this letter to thank the four board members who voted in favor of inclusive education for all: Karla Esser, Lisa Escárcega, Rebecca McClellan, and Angelika Schroeder.
The Colorado Springs Club Q shooting, a violent hate crime that resulted in the loss of five lives, and the trauma experienced by many others is, in part, a result of one-dimensional educational standards surrounding LGBTQ representation in schools and communities. The lack of education around LGBTQ peoples’ diverse history and cultures throughout the world leaves all students unaware of the contributions that LGBTQ people have made to society. Policies like this help to ensure our accurate, vibrant, and essential history as Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is preserved and taught for future generations.
We are Colorado’s Queer Youth Network, a virtual network of nearly 30 queer youth ages 11-22, and five queer adult members from rural places all across Colorado. The network is a joint project of One Colorado and the Colorado School of Public Health’s Hub for Justice-centered Youth Engagement and is funded by The Colorado Health Foundation. Colorado’s Queer Youth Network meets twice a month online to be in community, discuss our experiences as queer folks in Colorado, and to create a space of support, safety, validation, and collective action.
Being a queer youth in a rural or conservative environment makes it even more challenging to find support and connect with others in our community. For black, indigenous and other youth of color, there are added components to community, safety — or the lack thereof — that can lead to additional discrimination.
At Colorado’s Queer Youth Network, we recognize that creating a space of connection that honors both a person’s queer and racial/ethnic identity directly helps to alleviate feelings of isolation and hopelessness, both of which are by-products of systemic oppression often felt by queer youth. We know that elevating spaces to affirm one’s queer identity and connect deeply with other youth and adults supports youths’ development.
In Colorado’s Queer Youth Network, we center and celebrate our queer identities, share joy, engage in resistance, and promote community resilience with one another. During our meetings we have discussed the importance of spaces like the Network because it allows queer youth who are few and far between in rural spaces to find community and solidarity with one another, despite bing in places that fight against them.
State and national anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric contribute to LGBTQ youth experiencing violence and trauma. Nationally, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Fund National School Climate Survey, 6 out of 10 LGBTQ students reported that their school engaged in LGBTQ-related discriminatory policies or practices. Youth who are bullied are socially isolated, lack mentors, and are at an increased risk for mental health challenges.
In Colorado, according to the 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, LGBTQ youth are at least three times more likely than their cisgender or straight peers to have seriously thought about suicide. Conversely, when LGBTQ young people are affirmed by and connected to their communities, students experience improved academic performance, and better health outcomes are seen overall. There is a direct relationship between having supportive school staff and inclusive curricula; this increases students’ feelings of connectedness according to GLSEN.
We want to see LGBTQ history taught and discussed in classrooms to provide a place for everyone to see queer representation in a way that is accurate and professional. Seeing our own teachers talk about queer history, issues, and events, would help us trust our teachers more. Every policy choice that affirms the lives of all Coloradans moves us closer to a world where we can be our authentic selves, and live without fear.
Daniel Martinez, of Denver, is assistant program manager at the Colorado School of Public Health, and co-lead of Colorado’s Queer Youth Network.
Heather Kennedy, of Westminster, is an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health.
Noah Jansen, of Denver, is a youth specialist at the Colorado School of Public Health, and co-lead of Colorado’s Queer Youth Network.
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