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This Isn’t Going to Be Your Forever

Ellen Friedrichs
Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, in many households, the strains of closed schools, lost jobs, health issues, and close quarters mean that tensions are high, tempers are short, and privacy has become a luxury. If you’re a young queer person who is now isolated with trans- or homophobic family members, you probably know that better than anyone. Here are a few ideas to help you stay as physically and emotionally safe as possible during these difficult days.

Tips for Queer Youth Stuck at Home With Trans- and Homophobic Parents

The global COVID-19 pandemic has put a huge amount of pressure on a huge number of people. In many households, the strains of closed schools, lost jobs, health issues, and close quarters mean that tensions are high, tempers are short, and privacy has become a luxury.

If you’re a young queer person who is now isolated with trans- or homophobic family members, you probably know that better than anyone.

Maybe things are normally okay at home, but now it feels like everything you do is under a microscope. Maybe an environment that usually just felt tense, now feels unsafe. Maybe you’ve been holding everything in for so long that you feel like you are about to burst and have nowhere to go let off steam. Whatever your situation looks like, the fact is, you could probably use a little support.

So here are a few ideas to help you stay as physically and emotionally safe as possible during these difficult days.

Stuck at Home

During high school and college, there were plenty of times my parents and I butted heads, or got under each other’s skin, or found ourselves in epic screaming matches. One of the things that helped the most was getting some space.

These days, many of the self-care strategies that you probably use to manage everything from dealing with microaggressions to flat-out dangerous situations just aren’t going to be possible. Those might have been things like escaping to a friend’s place, being at school, participating in your GSA, going to a movie or a coffee shop, staying at your grandma’s, or even just taking a walk.

So what can you do?

For Darid, a high school senior who’s a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council, what has helped most has been staying connected to the outside world. They say, “I am fortunate to have my own space and my own room in the house to get away from everything, and just focus on myself. I’ve been keeping in contact with friends. We FaceTime almost every day. We even developed a routine; every Saturday, we get together virtually and have movie nights through Netflix Party. Finding a group of friends and starting a mini routine or picking out an activity to do together virtually has been helping me hold on to some type of normality.”

That will resonate for a lot of young people. But for others, connecting virtually is going to be a bigger challenge since it is estimated that almost half of all Americans don’t have reliable Internet. That can be tough under normal circumstances. But as everything from school to socializing has moved online, it can make you feel even more isolated.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to borrow a device or get online via your school. WiFi may also be available through a public place, like outside a library or a McDonalds. Some young people have also been given the okay to safely connect in real life by doing things like taking a physically distanced walk or bike ride, or having a distanced picnic with friends.

Being Yourself

If you are like a lot of people, your home self isn’t identical to the self you share with friends, teachers, or at your job.

For some of you, being at home might actually be a relief and a nice break from the stresses of your regular life. I teach middle and high school health and I was surprised to hear from one of my students who said they were actually happier at home than at school because they weren’t dealing with daily drama.

But for a lot of young people, especially LGBTQIA+ youth who have trans- or homophobic parents, home is anything but relaxing, especially if you need to constantly think about how you are acting, talking, or presenting yourself in front of your family. That is often called code switching and it is a crucial survival tactic for a lot of queer youth. But it can also be an exhausting and stressful one, especially if you have to do it 24/7.

As Darid says, “I am a senior in high school, so I currently live with my parents. At first, it was difficult to adjust. For me, I code-switch a lot. The way I act and express myself with my family is completely different from the way I express myself with my friends. So it was hard, not having supportive and queer spaces that I often occupy.”

If you are modifying how you present yourself to avoid triggering hostility from your family, it is also a good idea to try to find ways to express yourself authentically. That can be with friends over a video chat, dressing up alone in your room, writing in a journal, or even watching a movie or listening to music that speaks to you.

Coming Out and Being Outed

Coming out should always be your own choice, done on your own terms and timeline. But being isolated with your family, especially if you don’t have any privacy, can increase the chance of being outed before you are ready. Your sibling could pick up your phone and see a revealing text. You could get overheard on the phone. Your parents could be watching your every move looking for “signs.”

For one college student, being home from school right now meant being pushed to come out by religious parents. As she wrote on Reddit, “A couple of months ago my mom asked me if I was gay and I said I wasn’t because I did not want to be forced out of the closet.” However, being at home has changed the dynamic and after being asked and confronted repeatedly about her sexual orientation, she came out. The result? “My parents are not really taking it well,” she wrote.

While some of you are probably terrified that your families will find out about your identity, others of you might be desperate to come out to them. That can be the case if you feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of keeping everything inside.

Coming out can definitely be an amazing experience. But it can also be a risky one. So if you are leaning in that direction, you really need to think about whether or not now is the best time.

Here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • How do I think my family will react?
  • How will coming out impact my situation at home?
  • Is it safe, physically and emotionally, for me to come out to my parents?
  • Do I have resources available (both emotional and financial) if coming out changes my situation at home?
  • Do I have people whom I can talk to before I come out to my parents?
  • What will waiting to come out until after the pandemic ends do to me? What are the upsides of waiting? What are the downsides?

If you go through this list and decide that coming out at home it isn’t the best choice right now, you should know you still have options.

For example, there might be a friend or family member whom you could call and talk to. If your school or college has a GSA, or something similar, you could also reach out to the person who runs that. Many communities have LGBTQIA+ community centers that have programs for youth. You can find your closest one at Centerlink. If you have privacy online privately, there are also a lot of places you can find support. For example, you can ask for advice on the Scarleteen message boards, live chat or via text. There are also groups like the Trevor Project or the LGBT National Youth Talkline which are geared towards queer and questioning youth in crisis, and sites like Q Chat Space, that can help you connect with LGBTQIA+ peers.

If you hadn’t been involved with the queer community before the lockdown, getting involved now could actually be a good way to ease in since there are more virtual spaces around than ever.

When Life at Home is Unbearable

Sometimes a person’s family of origin is just so toxic or abusive that being at home is unbearable or unsafe. Some young people suffer verbal or physical abuse. Others are forced into conversion therapy. This practice, which falsely claims to be able to change sexual orientation and gender identity, had been banned in almost half the states. However, minors are still being put into these dangerous programs by parents.

Getting help from a supportive community, an affirming school guidance counsellor, an understanding family therapist, or an LGBTQIA+ – friendly religious congregation can help families work through many of their issues.

But there are plenty of situations where needed help isn’t available, or it just isn’t safe for a young person to live at home. As a result, some choose to leave. Others are removed by the state. Far too many get kicked out by their parents. That generally isn’t legal if a person is under 18. But, sadly, that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Whatever the reason, if you can’t live at home, the first thing to do is to see if you can stay with a friend or family member. That option is really going to be impacted by the state of the pandemic and by the rules about physical distancing where you live.

If finding someone to live with doesn’t pan out and you are facing homelessness, or if you are already unhoused, try to locate LGBTQIA+-friendly services. When dealing with a crisis like losing your home due to trans- and homophobia, the last thing you need is to hit up against the same prejudices in the outside world.

These days, you can find LGBTQIA+ focused services for youth in cities around the US and Canada as well as in many countries around the globe. Lambda Legal has a good list of resources for LGBTQ youth by state. In some areas, there are even LGBTQIA+ shelters and residences. One of those is the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which is committed to staying open throughout the pandemic. They also have a list of resources specifically for youth facing homelessness around the country.

In extreme cases, teens can seek legal emancipation from parents. This gives minors the legal rights and responsibilities of adults. But with courts closed, jobs hard to come by, and schools shut down, this probably isn’t the best bet for most people.

What it All Comes Down to

Being a young person queer with trans- and homophobic family can present challenges during the best of times. But right now, living with parents who are hostile to your identity is probably just about one of the hardest things around.

So it is crucial that you find ways to stay safe, honor yourself, and get support. Sometimes talking to a friend you know in real life, finding your people online, or reaching out to an organization that supports queer youth is a good option. Other times, just being able to step outside your front door by yourself can give you the headspace you need to get through the day.

This isn’t going to end overnight. But try to remember that what you are experiencing right now, and whatever you are doing to survive it, also isn’t going to be your forever.

Photo of clouds and text that says "this isn't going to be your forever"

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Protest in the Age of COVID-19

Tasha Fierce
We’ve got a million reasons to be in the streets. But not everyone is okay with — or even able to engage in — active protest right now. But because of COVID-19, many people, especially sick and disabled folks, may be hesitant to bring their bodies together as a show of force. Here’s how to make in-person protest safer and how to pitch in from your living room or bed instead.

We’ve got a million reasons to be in the streets in the United States. White supremacist fascists are preparing for a civil war, Black folks continue to be targeted by law enforcement and vigilantes, ten million adults are unemployed while millions more are otherwise struggling to survive.

But not everyone is okay with — or even able to engage in — active protest right now. There’s one big reason why many people here, especially sick and disabled folks, may be hesitant to bring their bodies together as a show of force: COVID-19.

Our leadership has handled this pandemic predictably, and we’re now heading into another crest of the same unbroken hellwave we’ve been riding since February. The myth of young people’s low infection risk has been used as a pawn in the debate over schools and universities opening, while teens and emerging adults are actually dying and becoming disabled from this disease. The CDC has recently confirmed that the novel coronavirus is airborne, that it can spread beyond six feet and linger in the air, shifting the terrain of the pandemic.

It’s all exhausting and terrifying, but not less so than a fascist dictatorship with the current president at the helm. So, we continue on.

In the age of COVID-19, how can we make our voices heard without spreading the virus? If we are organizers, how do we organize actions that are as safe and accessible as they can be for as many people as possible?

Safe(r) Protest During the Pandemic

There’s some good news on both counts: Black Lives Matter protests from May-June did not cause significant spikes in infection rates. We also already know transmission outside is less likely than transmission in an indoor space with poor ventilation, so outdoor rallies and marches are at an advantage. Wearing masks, maintaining a distance of six feet or further from other people, hand sanitizing and washing hands when running water is available–these are basics that I hope everyone has internalized into our everyday routines by now, and these practices go double for active protest If you are engaging in active protest, take extra face coverings in case you are teargassed and need to change.

This is important because COVID-19 can be transmitted by surface contact — like the inner surface of your asymptomatic buddy’s mask. It just needs to touch your nose, eyes, or mouth, or close to them. You can also get it by touching something that has virions on it, like a shared water bottle, and then touching your face. Bring your own stuff to protests, don’t share stuff, and if you do, clean it with 70%-95% isopropyl alcohol before you use it again. You might also want to get some gloves, disposable or washable, that you can wear if you need to handle communal items. Just don’t touch your face or adjust your mask with your gloved hands, because that defeats the purpose.

COVID-19 has a 2-14 day incubation period. It’s possible to transmit the virus even if you don’t have any symptoms. Best practice is to quarantine for two weeks in between actions.

Even if everyone’s social distancing is perfect, it is still possible to get infected if someone is actively shedding the virus. Get tested if you can, but regardless, wait 14 days after you last protested to make sure you aren’t still in the incubation period.

For organizers, make sure you are very clear on your mask policy and your social distancing policy when publicizing your event. Consider using something like stomping, clapping, noisemakers, anything other than chanting, yelling, and singing when you’re trying to build energy. If someone is infected, those activities are the most likely to spread the virus to others.

Accessible Protest During the Pandemic

There are lots of ways we can protest that don’t involve any risk at all, and we’ll get to those in a bit. But before we do, let’s talk a bit about how in-person protest can be made more accessible specifically in the context of COVID-19.

Accessibility needs to be foundational to any action, as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha teaches us in Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, it can’t be an afterthought. You must include disabled and chronically ill people in the process of planning any protest. In lieu of that direct input, here are some perennial basics on accessibility, tailored for the outdoors:

  • Make sure any outdoor venue has ramps and pathways wide enough for wheelchairs
  • Provide ASL translation and CART transcription for speakers
  • Create audio and image descriptions for outreach materials
  • Provide written materials in large type and Braille
  • Make sure there are accessible and gender-neutral bathrooms nearby
  • Provide seating (folding chairs work–check weight limits on these)
  • Ban fragrances from the space
  • Designate an accessibility point person for disabled protestors to seek guidance from
  • Allow disabled protestors to set the pace if you are marching
  • If marching, describe the route verbally and with ASL translation before you begin
  • Use megaphones or other speech-amplifying devices to communicate instructions
  • Allow disabled folks and elders to drive cars along the route with marchers

Car caravans and other mobile protests are probably the safest form of in-person protest, and one of the more accessible ones. I attended one over the summer; it was necessary catharsis for me as a queer disabled Black person heartbroken over the death of their kin. But when I was a teenager and emerging adult, caravans wouldn’t have been accessible to me if I had to be a driver — I couldn’t drive due to the heavy medication I was on.

What can I do to fight back if the only things that are accessible to me are my bed and a phone or laptop? 

For registered voters, city council meetings for many municipalities have moved online, so it’s a lot easier to let our local representatives know how we feel. Find out when your city’s next meeting is and what the procedure is for making a public comment. Prepare a short statement, for example, demanding that your local police department be defunded or supporting a rent moratorium during the pandemic, and read it when the time comes.

Everyone can follow abolitionist organizations on Twitter like Survived and Punished. They and other organizations amplify phone banking actions and phone protests against correctional facilities and police precincts. While you’re on Twitter, you can follow hashtags like #FreeThemAll, #BlackLivesMatter, and #CareForBlackWomen. And if you’re following that last hashtag and you have some extra cash, you can engage in some mutual aid.

What’s Mutual Aid? Mutual aid is what anarchists and other radicals call it when we claim responsibility for the material, spiritual, and political well-being of our community and its members. The system isn’t built for us, so we have to figure out how to take care of ourselves while we organize to bring it down. When we engage in mutual aid, we pool our time, money, knowledge, living space, skills, energy, or other resources, so that everyone can get their needs met.

We need cultural workers, too. Writers and artists, performers, singers, all are called to create work that uplifts and inspires the movement. If you’re a healer, an astrologer, if you have knowledge of first aid or herbalism or some drawings that you want to collect into a zine and distribute among your community, we need you. We do ourselves a disservice when we limit the spectrum of political activism to direct action and agitation. Building the new world first requires us to create a clear vision of it, a blueprint. That’s where cultural work comes in.

Education is also cultural work. For example, my political home, the Los Angeles Spoonie Collective, holds workshops and panels on disability justice and intersectionality in the hopes of educating our community into being a more hospitable place for its disabled and chronically ill members. Get out there and share your knowledge, what you’ve learned so far on this Earth, your lived experience. Don’t pay any mind to folks who tell you that you aren’t old enough to know what you’re talking about.

For more ways to engage with movement from home, read this excellent resource by Ejeris Dixon, Kay Ulanday Barrett, and others: 26 Ways To Be in The Struggle When We’re Not in the Streets. If you’d like more information on how to protest in general, check out Scarleteen’s guide Rebel Well: A Starter Survival Guide To A Trumped America.

Rebellion, always a risky proposition, is made even more so by this respiratory pandemic. But there are as many ways to be of service to the movement that don’t involve breathing the same air as there are different people breathing. And with care and consideration, actions where we do come together to breathe the same air can be made safer, more accessible, and more reflective of the world we want to live in — within and without this pandemic.

image of Black woman wearing mask and title text

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