**”It Still Happens” is a guest essay by Kelly Jensen, author of Chasing Forever (This Time Forever #3).**
The legalization of same-sex marriage is a wonderful thing. It’s an important step in the struggle for equality—one marked by romance authors by an increase in happy ever after endings for LGBTQ couples, and books that are more about being in love than being gay—but for many of our youth who identify as LGBTQ, little has changed.
I find it difficult to imagine kicking a child out of home for any reason, but children and teens are still being ejected from their homes and rejected by the people who are supposed to love them, all because of something they cannot change. Because they are who they are. It’s completely nuts, but my inability to understand how anyone could hate their child for being themselves doesn’t do a lot for the kids to whom this happens. My outrage doesn’t help.
As many writers do, I poured my frustration onto the page and created a character for my novel Chasing Forever that many of my readers will despise. Ellen, the sister of one of the main characters, Brian, has kicked her son out of their home because he’s gay. The only sympathetic moment I give her is an incident some twenty-six years before that would have been very upsetting.
I then cancel that out by revealing what her actions, back then, meant for her brother. After being kicked out, Brian survived the streets for eighteen months before someone took him in. Ellen’s son is luckier, but only because he had somewhere to go.
Homelessness is a tragedy—even more so when it involves children who are on the street simply because their parents think they are wrong.
Three years ago, one of my neighbors knocked on my door, and when I opened it, she dissolved into my arms, awash in tears, because her child had come out as trans. My neighbor’s grief had one specific focus: What had she done wrong? As parents, we take our children’s choices very personally, but the choice in question wasn’t the one my neighbor thought it was. Her child wasn’t choosing whether to be a boy or a girl; he was choosing to be himself.
Once my neighbor processed this, she calmed. Her upset was still evident, but understanding that this wasn’t something she had done helped. Her confusion is clear evidence of what’s wrong with my generation, though—believing in harmful, inflexible binaries of male and female, and that sexuality is either normal or deviant.
I do want to make one thing clear about my neighbor—although she was upset and confused, she was already making plans to help her child make this transition: scheduling appointments, notifying the school about the change of gender, and making sure teachers called him by his new name. Although she doesn’t understand, she loves her child and will do everything in her power to make sure he has the best future possible.
Not so for other kids in our community.
One of my daughter’s friends was kicked out of her home over the summer for being gay. The same thing happened to about five kids the year before and another handful the year before that, and these are just the stories I hear. Children who are in some way connected to my daughter.
On the one hand, I shouldn’t be surprised. I live in Trump country, after all. But, then again, I was genuinely surprised (horrified, devastated) the morning after the presidential election.
I’m still surprised every time I hear a story like this.
I’d like to stop being surprised.
In Chasing Forever, lead characters Brian and Mal are on a quest to raise money and to find a location for an LGTBQ youth center in their hometown. I chose this project for this novel because it’s a subject I’m passionate about. It’s also a project that proves important to both of the characters—and to their community.
For Brian, who was discovered in bed with a boy at fourteen and subsequently beaten and thrown out of the house (mostly thanks to sister Ellen), this project is incredibly personal—especially as he is currently caring for his nephew, the boy Ellen decided wasn’t worthy of her love and support.
For Mal, the project is an education. He has always had the support of his family and friends. In fact, he has rarely had to consider his sexuality—except he has, and when he thinks back, he realizes that, despite the fact he’s had it easy, he could have done more.
There is a serious lack of LGTBQ services in my part of Pennsylvania. The local college has a society, as does every high school, but clubs can’t offer what a dedicated center could: a safe space, a place of learning and understanding, a beacon that announces to the public that we, as a community, care about all our kids—not just the Christian children or the financially disadvantaged, not just the readers and the athletes, but all our kids—that we love them and support them.
So I’m going to do more. I’m donating the proceeds of Chasing Forever to two organizations focused on LGBTQ Youth. I’m going to provide the URLs for them so you can take a look and perhaps decide to help out, but I’d also like to encourage you to do more.
Not all of us live in safe communities, and many of us have to hide what we read (and write), but small actions can mean more than any donation. Be the adult who listens. Be the adult who cares. Be the adult who understands, loves, and supports—because that’s what adults are supposed to do.
Some of us are in a great position to provide more: shelter, aid, activism. Some of us can only listen and care. It all makes a difference, and you never know; your neighbor might simply have been waiting for someone else to speak up. Your church group just needs someone to lead it. Your children and their friends only need one adult to say, “I’m here.”
While I can admit to being surprised by events that should surprise no one, I am not naïve enough to believe we can change this world tomorrow, or next year, or the year after, but we have to start somewhere—one voice joined by another, one action followed by another action—so that one day, the phrase “it still happens” can be one of actual, genuine surprise.
So that one day, parents like my neighbor won’t have to ask what they did wrong. Instead, they can celebrate what they’re doing right by being the one who listens and loves—just as my neighbor did, but without the upset and confusion.
So that one day, when people read a book like Chasing Forever, they’ll feel as though they’re reading something from the distant past. I’ll get poor reviews, and that’ll be okay, because hopefully more of our kids will be safe.
(featured image: torbakhopper on Flickr)
LGBTQ organizations I support:
William Way LGBT Community Center (http://www.waygay.org/)
ALSO Youth (http://www.alsoyouth.org/)
My local library. I volunteer for programs where I get to work directly with teens and we strive to make everyone welcome.
Where to start:
The Trevor Project (https://www.thetrevorproject.org)
Human Rights Campaign (http://www.hrc.org/)
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (http://www.lambdalegal.org/)
The GLBT National Help Center (http://www.glnh.org/)
Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) (http://www.pflag.org/)
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (http://www.glad.org/)
Family Equality Council (https://www.familyequality.org/)
There are dozens more resources, and a quick search of the internet will find one located near you.
Kelly Jensen is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.
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