Celebrating Pride Month 2022 by Affirming Joy

Pictures of three people smiling at the camera holding encouraging homemade signs about LGBTQ youth

Celebrating Pride Month 2022 by Affirming Joy

Last October, on the same day I was invited to join the staff of DC Action, my then eight-year-old child came out to my husband, their teenage sister, and me as nonbinary. They (note second use of new pronouns) asked to be called a new gender-neutral name–Niki–a derivative of their middle name. None of us were really shocked by this revelation, given comments and choices they had made in recent years, although we didn’t expect a change like this to come so soon. But when a moment like this arises with one of your kids, you must rise to meet it. And that’s what we did.

We talked with Niki’s teacher, principal, soccer coach, and martial arts instructors about their new name and pronouns. Thankfully, they were all unquestioningly supportive, as were their classmates. We wrote letters to friends and family and included a link to an explanation of gender identity on the enormously helpful Gender Spectrum website. We reminded people that Niki was still the same wonderful kid, just with a new name and pronouns. Like your favorite brand of cookies with new, updated packaging. Still just as delicious!

Our family is incredibly grateful that our community has affirmed Niki’s identity. Isn’t that what anyone wants, whether related to gender or sexuality or not? For the most part, human beings long to feel seen and heard. We hope people will recognize our gifts, connect with our personalities, and honor our divine sparks. Whether we’re trying out softball, the violin, or gardening, we want to know that someone believes in us, and wishes us well. Whether we get a dramatically different haircut or make a major career change or move to a new city, we want to feel agency and power in making our own choices, and making progress on the journey to becoming our best selves. 

Affirm is such a positive word, evoking support, encouragement, and validation. I believe that affirming children is one of the most important parts of raising, educating, and nurturing them–whether we are parents or members of a community. As they say, it takes a village. 

And yet. 

While the current mental health crisis among children and youth in this country is well documented, and the statistics on mental health challenges for LGBTQIA+ youth are far beyond alarming, there remains a movement to deny gender-affirming treatment to young people. As if opposing and attempting to erase someone’s identity isn’t punishing enough, there are those who would accuse and arrest the families of these children for so-called abuse, and even separate the children from their parents–who are doing their best to support their children by embracing them for who they are and enabling them to grow and develop into happy, healthy, confident adults. 

Simply using a young person’s chosen name has been shown to result in “a 29% decrease in suicidal ideation and a 56% decrease in suicidal behavior,” according to the Trevor Project. Yet there are people who would put a child’s life in danger because they don’t believe in or agree with their stated identity. Who are we to decide who someone else is? An extraordinary element of being human is that we have the ability to invent and reinvent ourselves. Youth respondents to a 2019 Trevor Project survey “identified with more than 100 sexual orientations and more than 100 gender identities.” Our understanding of who we are and how we relate to the world is constantly evolving. And thank goodness for that. I shudder to imagine having to adhere to prescribed gender and sexual roles of the centuries past.

This month my husband and I had the privilege of riding with Niki in a float in the Capital Pride Parade. Niki was invited by Little SMYALs, a program of SMYAL dedicated to LGBTQIA+ kids ages 6 to 12. Niki loves participating in Little SMYALs activities, and as we were making our way home from the parade, said it was the most fun day of their life. Being part of the parade, surrounded by thousands of people dressed to express their own pride and allyship, and seeing and hearing them cheering for you, waving, smiling, offering high fives and fist bumps, is nothing if not affirming. Pride is an enormous rainbow-infused hug that says, “I love you for exactly who you are.” My wish for every LGBTQIA+ person is to have the chance to feel that kind of positive energy, to be affirmed. May all of us, during Pride month and every other month, make sure LGBTQIA+ children and young people feel seen, heard, and loved for who they are. It’s the least we can do and that’s how we save lives. 

staff photo of a woman smiling

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

 

June 23, 2022