LGBTQ+ role models are critical

When my son came out, I found myself quickly learning how to navigate a new world where he might not be given the same rights and opportunities I expected for him. I was lost in a storm of rhetoric and hate pushing back against my child’s future.

Then we found Joe Wilson, a filmmaker, and his husband Dean Hamer. Joe’s film, “Out in the Silence” portrayed LGBTQ+ issues in a rural U.S. town similar to our own. The film captured the transformative power of open dialogue with those who don’t share your beliefs.


Hamer’s work as an openly gay Harvard-educated scientist served as an example that my son could succeed in whichever career he choose. At a time when marriage was not federally legal, Wilson and Hamer’s decades-long relationship showed us that a full life was possible for LGBTQ+ people even with these restrictions.

We even reached out to Wilson and Hamer when we approached our school district to push for an inclusive curriculum. They took the time to answer us, providing advice and support for breaking down barriers that shaped local policy. I was grateful for their guidance in showing me how to make our little community better for my son.

The world our children are growing up in remains awash in homophobic and transphobic messages — from conservative groups pushing to ban books that touch on LGBTQ+ issues to laws being passed to stop even the use of the word “gay” in schools. Many fear that the rights won by the LGBTQ+ community will be erased. With society telling queer youth they shouldn’t exist, it’s important we show them that LGBTQ+ people are and always have been a vital part of humanity.

June is Pride month, a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ love but also protest the hate and exclusion that still impacts many queer and trans people today. But after the parade confetti is swept away, I encourage you to look for a deeper, lasting connection for your child within their new community. An important part of that is the need for powerful role models.

We know that LGBTQ+ teens are up to four times more likely to consider suicide and face many other health disparities if they don’t feel accepted. They need people to shine a light on the path ahead, showing them ‌they can be anything. Often the strongest adult role models young people see are other LGBTQ+ advocates and celebrities. As wonderful as they are, we need more.

This isn’t a message for LGBTQ+ adults telling them they have to be more visible. I’m instead asking parents to look further than the most broadcast people in their world. Look at the fields that interest your child, from astrophysics to zoology, and find LGBTQ+ leaders in those areas working to make the world better.

Show your child that they exist and that they matter.

Without that guiding light from generations before them, future generations might believe, as educator Gerald Unk once said, “no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.”

I was afraid that my child’s future would be limited. Wilson and Hamer showed us that we were wrong. Help your child find the guides they need to show them a brighter future.

Laura Goetz is a social worker, educator, and activist. Follow her on Twitter @LauraGoetzSW.

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