“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Leviticus 19:18
Our nation is in crisis. Every day we see liberties stripped from those who have only recently enjoyed equality in the eyes of the law. Many forget that we are one people, bound together by a common desire to live out our lives in the way we choose on one small planet within the vast and swirling cosmos. What one person does within the confines of their own and private life is of no consequence to those around. Primim non nocere. Do no harm. The mantra of healers and words to live by. Protect those around you, embrace them and remember they want nothing more than the same ability to live.
Chavisa Woods spoke with us for a second time about her book Things to do When You’re Goth in the Country. Some of the stories in the book are based on her experiences growing up in a small town. Woods periodically revisits her southern Illinois hometown of 1,000 people where 21% of households and 34% of individuals live at or below the poverty line and 100% of students receive free lunches. During the previous election, around 70% of votes went to Trump. It was in this context that Woods grew up as an out lesbian during high school.
During this conversation, Woods discussed her experiences in that town compared with her life in New York City. Recently, controversy erupted in Woods’ hometown when a transgender boy was barred from attending a school dance in the role of a “male escort” (the school’s term for boys attending formal dances). Despite a petition that went viral on social media, the student was not allowed to fully participate.
Woods points to multiple studies, including one by Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), that have tracked the impact of these actions by schools since the 1990s. The studies reveal that students who experience discrimination in school barring access to extracurricular activities are two times more likely to drop out of school. In all studies, around 85% of LGBT students experienced harassment or assault because of sexuality or gender orientation. 63% of those cases, when reported, resulted in no action by the school.
In the climate of the current administration, protections for transgendered individuals are under serious threat. An expansion of Title IX (the legislation that mandates equal treatment of the sexes by schools receiving federal funding) extending federal protections to transgendered youth was recently rescinded by the Trump administration leaving the decision up to each state. While there are policies on the books in some states protecting gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals, the actions of the federal government give states the confidence to ignore these policies allowing these populations to lose rights, employment and face discrimination because of their sexuality or gender orientation.
All of this adds up to a serious crisis for LGBT youth. They are being pushed out of their schools and often their homes. According to Woods, 40% of all homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT. What makes this statistic even more shocking is that LGBT youth only account for 11% of the entire population.
The actions of the current administration create an atmosphere of condoned discrimination. Woods’ own activism stems largely from her wish to protect LGBT youth from experiencing the sort of discrimination and treatment she did growing up as an out lesbian. A traumatic experience with her high school guidance counselor became a turning point for her and impacted her ability to receive guidance when it came time to apply to college.
By enacting anti-discrimination policy in schools, students and parents become empowered to speak out and follow official channels when action is necessary in the wake of harassment or assault. Without policy, students can be targeted without consequence. Getting policies like this in schools can be a grassroots effort. Parents and concerned citizens can speak up and demand protections for LGBT students. Teachers can enact policies within their own classrooms.
We are not mandated by the hate currently residing at the federal level. Woods encourages people to become involved in these matters and offers insights about how to do so in the interview.
Listen to the interview here.
A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:
It is not for us to decide how others conduct their fleeting existence. It is only for us to love them and to strive toward a day when all are equal.
Books to Read
What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Chavisa Woods’ book Things to Do When You’re a Goth Girl in the Country is available from Penguin Random House.
Opportunities / Open Calls
The New York State Council on the Arts in partnership with Wave Farm presents Media Arts Assistance Fund (MAAF) available to individual artists. Awards are designed to assist artists with the distribution and exhibition of work in all genres. Deadline for submissions is January 15.
Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.