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Supporting your LGBTQ+ community

Mx. Ellis, teacher at Inglemoor Highschool

Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you came to discover that you were transgender? I currently teach art at Inglemoor High School. This is my 4th year teaching, and my 2nd year teaching being out as transgender. I am non-binary/genderfluid, and my pronouns are they/them. I grew up in a rural conservative town in Ohio, and social media and the internet didn't start really kicking off until I was around 15 years old, so my worldview was extremely limited until I went to college. I didn't realize I was queer until I was 22 years old, and I didn't come out as non-binary until I was 24. How can we as a society respect and support the LGBTQ community? That's a tough question, because there's a lot of layers to how the LGBTQ+ community is perceived and treated. I think there's a lot of internal work that needs to be done at the individual level first. For me, I had to undo a lot of thinking that was societally embedded into me. Things like assuming heterosexuality and cisness were the default. These ideas were embedded into me through my community, and it led to harmful treatment of the few queer people I grew up around, including myself. On a bigger scale, there's so much still being done to repress and silence queer and trans people, and that helps perpetuate harmful propaganda created to demonize LGBTQ+ people. We need a chance to be visible; there's been far more LGBTQ+ showrunners and writers in media, and the positive impact that's had on representation and understanding has been astronomical. That needs to happen in all fields. I'm one of only a few gay teachers here, and the only trans teacher (that I'm aware of), and I've often gotten comments both from students and from people online that seeing a trans teacher has made them believe that can also be a teacher, or be a doctor, or pursue their dreams without their queerness being something that could hold them back. Do you think negative stigmas of LGBTQ people worsen their mental health? Absolutely. Look at the Trevor Project climate survey ( 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide just in 2021, more than half of them were transgender. Around 70% stated their mental health was "poor". These statistics are not new, it's been like this for as long as I can remember. Negative stigma bleeds into the personal lives of lgbtq+ youths and informs how queer youth is treated by their friends and families. Being called a slur by a stranger sucks, but the thing that can really impact a person is the threat of being disowned or kicked out if their family finds out. Even if everything turns out okay, the possibility that your parent could stop loving you because they believe the negative stigmas around LGBTQ people is enough to deteriorate someone's mental health. For example, my mom loves me unconditionally, but I didn't come out as trans to her right away because I had so much anxiety: What if she believed the negative stigmas? What if she stopped loving me? It was a very heavy weight that I carried for a long time.

Can you explain a little bit about what GSA club, and how it supports the LGBTQ community? The Gender-Sexuality Alliance club (GSA) is meant to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ students. When a student comes into the room, all of the negative stigmas are gone, they're in a space where they can be themselves and they don't have to worry about being perceived as bad or different. They can even joke about it. Because everyone else there understands and accepts each other. We meet every week, and more than anything it's a chance to socialize and have fun. Since you run GSA club, how have you observed the mental health of LGBTQ teens? I think having a space like GSA has had a positive impact on these students. I've often even seen students come in not feeling great, and they're able to get support from one another and feel better. Beyond that though, I find Inglemoor to be extremely LGBTQ+ friendly. No place is perfect, but IHS has a pretty large population of students who identify as LGBTQ+ and because of that the community is really supportive. If you could give one piece advice for anyone who is LGBTQ and finds themselves struggling to fit in with the community/find their place, what would you say? You're not alone, and you will find your people. If you're feeling boxed in, then open yourself up to new opportunities whenever you get the chance! It sounds cliche, but things really do get better.

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