Visibility matters

19 Mar, 2015

“A magazine cover saved my life.” Jonathan Higbee

This was the opening to an evening of great speakers at the March 4th event hosted by The Trevor Project NextGen New York. The event’s theme was representation of LGBTQ youth in the media. Along with Jonathan were Charlie Kerr, Kelvin Moon Loh, and Sarah Kate Ellis. Each shared stories and unique perspectives on the topic.

When Jonathan saw for the first time a magazine cover with a happy young gay couple pictured, it changed his perspective on what kind of life would be possible. Without any examples in the town where he grew up, it would be hard to image that a young man like him could find happiness and love and self-acceptance. The power of one image.

Without visibility, one’s own identity and the validity of one’s existence can be called into question.

“It is increasingly important to lift of the voices of LGBTQ young people who are often not represented in media outlets, as well as share their diverse stories and perspectives. Oftentimes, LGBTQ young people are unable to see people who reflect their identities. This can be isolating and challenging, especially if a young person is struggling to accept themselves for who they are.” – Trevor Project website

Kelvin addressed stereotyping in the casting process and the dearth of Asian men on Broadway – absent even in roles portraying Asian people, roles played instead by White men who later win Tony Awards for them! How do you envision a career in theater when the role of an Asian person is regularly being cast with White actors?

Charlie premiered her video series A Conversation on Street Harassment documenting the emotional and physical toll of street harassment. She noted that you can’t look at street harassment strictly or only through the lens of gender, but must connect these struggles to a broader schema to create social change and think about race, religion and other lenses as well. One noted example: trans and gender non-conforming people have higher rates of attempted suicide if they are harassed by the police than if they have not been harassed by police. Visibility also carries risks. A person featured in the video says that how he presents himself each day is based on making a choice between “feeling ok with myself, or being safe.”

The final speaker was Sarah Kate, who gave a historical summary of LGBTQ characters on television including the changing frequency and nature of how these characters are presented. This context helps evaluate both progress and backlash.

Issues of visibility, validation, and knowing you are not alone are themes running through Prepare’s classes as well. Students learn that violence is a social problem, not an individual problem and that their experiences have been shared by others. Classes are purposely limited in size so each participant is seen – their strengths acknowledged and the feedback and support individualized. Our staff team and our participants are diverse in age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, size, and cultural/ethnic background so students are more likely to find themselves represented in the classroom. We welcome people to come as they are, and not leave any part of their identity behind when they walk in the room.

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