By Maggie Apperson
What comes to mind when you think of the closet? A small, dark confined space. But what comes into mind when you think of a person in the closet? It becomes more fear-inducing, more dark, and desolate. This is where the term comes from, and for good reason. Why could something that sounds so simple, be so menacing behind closed doors. You may think of a place where your clothes hang, but what about another alternative meaning? One that involves the suppression of millions of people in the world we live in, some places worse than others.
Here in New Orleans, we face a more revolving issue. As a town that has gone through it all, suffering from natural disasters and economic turmoil, some families may not be the most concerned about a child’s sexuality or gender identity. According to a 2017 study that polled public high school students about their sexual orientation, 1.3 million students identified as belonging to the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). That is roughly 8% of all students surveyed, according to the most recent data published by Zoe Schlanger, an environmental reporter. Schlanger believes in LGBT rights, with a main focus on youth that are affected. She also reports that 18% of these LGBT youth have reported being raped or sexually assaulted. That is nearly three-times more compared to their straight peers.
On an inside look of things, an anonymous interview with a closeted high school trans male reveals what life is like on a day-to-day basis. This includes being treated differently by fellow students, family, and even adults. When asked what it is like being in the closet, the person responded, “…it’s a scary feeling like there’s this weight on your shoulders and you just can’t shake it off because if you do you might ruin everything that you have…” Later in the interview, he opened up to the struggles of how he is scared his family will act towards him, which is why he is closeted now. He has also stated that he has been scared for his safety, in fear of coming out to them. “My family is religious, some more than others, I’m scared that if they found out, something could happen.”
On a larger scale, the anonymous source believes his sexuality could affect his career and future as well. The source is worried about finances and how he is not only scared about rejection, but that the only family member which he has come out to has been his mom. His mother will likely not have the necessary financial means to afford college, which he hopes to attend. He explained that he has an aunt who can afford his college tuition, but doesn’t want her to change her views on him and seize the future he could have if he does not come out. “It’s kinda like if I see myself in the mirror after I take a shower or something, or I don’t have my binder on and I look in the mirror and I see my chest, I’m like ‘that doesn’t belong to me…”
The first thing you will see when looking up pride in New Orleans are parades, pride marches, and rainbow flags. New Orleans has a very adverse focus on LGBTQ, especially in their many festive and fun outgoings. On the outside, you might get the impression that it’s a very supportive town, but what about behind closed doors? According to a NOLA.com article written by David Leonhardt and Clair Cain Miller, New Orleans is ranked among the top 10 metropolitan areas with a queer or “gay” population, with a total population of just under 400,000 people. If 8% of high school students report being LGBTQ, and there are roughly 49,000 students in New Orleans, that is roughly 6,000 public school students who are queer or “gay.” This also doesn’t account for the overall population, including adults. On HRC.org, or, the Human Rights Campaign, they cite that 4 in 10 LGBT youth live in communities that are not accepting of them. Does this apply for New Orleans? If so, how many? And what is their anchor for opinatied beliefs? One answer is religion. When the city of New Orleans has faced so many challenges, it is not surprising that people embrace their beliefs and practice them wholeheartedly. There is nothing wrong with being religious, but what about when it starts to affect children’s health and safety? Some religious ideations involve the suppression of people who aren’t straight. Does this mean that religion is a key root for homophobia? No, but does it make it a problem? Yes.
Today, there are many people who are more accepting and open to Queer populations, but it is still a revolving issue that we face. Here in New Orleans, and everywhere, we need to constantly be considerate of the fact that being gay isn’t a choice, and it could happen to anyone. It is also something that we need to support for all youth, because people will question it, even if there is no new outcome for sexuality at the end of it. Questioning sexuality is completely normal, especially in younger people today.