You have the chance to ask anything. What would you say?
Recently, my guy partner and I were part of a panel discussion during a program on youth sexuality education. One component, the panel we were on, was about LGBTQ people and allies.
You might expect participants to be parents, teachers, community members, pastors, other people who work with young people and want to learn how to teach kids about the Big Scary Thing called sex ed.
Reality? The participants were the kids themselves, grades 7-12, with group leaders who were giving the program, which spans several months and covers a wide range of topics.
If you listen to adults talk about LGBTQ issues, there is frequently a heavy emphasis on sexual practices, religious values, relationship status, body appearance (surgery), is-he-or-isn’t-he, he/she must be because [stereotype], and personal opinions on the topic.
In this forum, the youth were allowed to ask, on cards (anonymously) out loud, to any or all panelists, anything they wanted. We were not bound to answer, but anyone who wanted to could. There were seven of us across the range of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, genderfluid, or combinations of those.
So what did these teenagers, which a free pass to ask anything, want to know?
What are your dogs’ names?
For gender identity, do you think there’s a certain age when you have to know there’s something different about you to be authentic, or can it happen anytime and still be real?
How can you teach LGBT tolerance?
What if a friend asks you to help them come out to their family because they are worried about what will happen? What do you do?
Have your general or religious values changed with your gender identity?
What kind of stereotypes about your gender or sexuality do you dislike?
If you are trans, was there a certain thing that made you know that you were trans?
If I’m not gay or bi or trans, how can I be a good friend to my friends who are?
What if who I think I am changes? Is that ok?
The panelists had been given a list of suggested questions and topics for our introductions, emphasizing that we should speak about ourselves broadly – what we do, where we are from, hobbies, interests, along with how we identify if we wanted – rather than as only labels or experiences so that the kids could get to see and know us as people first and realize that we are more than our identifying words.
Because THEY are more than labels and experiences. And that’s a hard concept for kids to get.
What was obvious, at least in this room of diverse kids, was that they grasped the concept of a world beyond themselves, and given the chance to ask anything, they chose to show intelligence, curiousity, and empathy to people who they didn’t know and would probably never see again.
Consider if you were in a room with a chance to ask a panel of seven LGBTQ people anything you wanted…what would you ask?