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A photo of author and GLSEN National School Council member Jessica holding out a hat that says RESPECT on it.

Jessica Chiriboga - 2018-2019 National Student Council Member

LOVE.

Love. Love. Love. Love must be the thud that drives LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers with each step forward.

While my newsfeed’s coverage of the migrant caravan has largely featured reports of gross xenophobia and rhetoric, November 17 brought a heart-warming, yet sobering story to light. In the city of Tijuana, Mexico, just two hours from my hometown, seven LGBTQIA+ couples who journeyed miles upon miles from Central America for the mere right to love freely were wed. This mass-wedding was beautiful, a hopeful juxtaposition in the wake of bigotry.

Yet the wave of pride and joy that swelled up inside my chest was soon replaced with a deep irrevocable sense of grief. The grief that engulfed me stemmed from the bleak reality that so many LGBTQIA+ people face around the world. These seven couples do not only face some of the highest levels of violence, extortion, poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, and gang violence, but also must contend with rampant homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia that seeks to erase their identities.

It’s altogether disconcerting, and even that word disconcerting is an understatement. People across this world fight for their mere right to live, their mere right to exist. As much as I have fallen in love with the earth, this is a moment where my heart runs over with disgust. As a student in a progressive southern California school, it seems unfathomable to me that a transgender student wouldn’t be allowed to use the restroom of their choosing. But yet, I am aware that in other states and other countries this is, unfortunately, a daily reality. 

73 of the countries in our world criminalize homosexuality; in eight of these countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, 5,000 LGBTQIA+ persons have been executed in Iran.

In 2017, the brutal abduction and torturing of around 100 male residents in Chechnya (Russia) because of their perceived sexual orientation came to light.

In 2018, conversion therapy in unlicensed clinics, where victims were subject to atrocities ranging from rape to beatings, were exposed across Ecuador.

It’s important to note that because I am primarily exposed to American media, these stories were not ‘uncovered’ by Western media for several months and years, even with the cries of local activists and coverage by local organizations/media.

This reality rips my heart out. It grips my beating organ in its iron-clad hands and refuses to release its grasp. It is an all too familiar reminder that I have so much more work to do in my own activism.

IGNORANCE.

In the bubble of my Southern California school, I’ve witnessed a great deal of ignorance, intended or unintended, displayed by my fellow out LGBTQIA+ peers.

Why does it matter that I learn about our history? Why does LGBTQIA+ activism matter if we can marry already? Why does it matter, students in California can already use the restroom of their choosing? Why does it matter what the world faces?

As silly as it sounds, I hear these questions all too often. These questions are rooted in a lack of LGBTQIA+ historical education, the privilege of wealth, a liberal locale, greater access to certain opportunities, and of being out and having a voice but not using it. 

People often refuse to involve themselves in politics and activism when the issues don’t affect them directly. For some in my area, the ‘liberal’ bubble and the legalization of gay marriage is the end of the journey. Sure, they are not completely immune to discrimination, but the likelihood of damage done is insignificant enough that they can still educate or fight for others.

What I hope to communicate is that even when issues don’t directly affect us, we need to recognize our role in this community. This community is a beautiful one, drawn together by struggle and a common goal. It’s a community that has relied on coming together in trying times, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to achieve equality for all members of the community. 

Unity has been lost over the last few years in my particular area, perhaps because the urgency is no longer there. Perhaps because my generation is unaware of what it was like to exist merely a decade ago.

Like with all things, we call all do our part to help remedy this lack of awareness…   

  1. Research the state of LGBTQIA+ rights in your state, country, and the world.

    1. How does your area differ from others?

  2. Recognize the needs of your community.

    1. Is there a particular sexual orientation or gender identity at your school or in your community that seems to be facing stigma and discrimination?

  3. Reflect on the issue.

    1. What seems to be rooted in this discrimination? (i.e. misogyny, cultural values, etc.)

  4. Respond to this issue.

    1. Holding an educational meeting with your GSA and then come up with a plan of action to address the issue (i.e. educating staff on use of pronouns)

    2. Create posters to educate school campus

    3. Hold a protest or talk on your school campus

    4. Make an announcement, video, or story in the newspaper to appear on campus to spread the word about your issue

    5. Meet with administration, school board, or non-profit to coordinate your efforts 

LOVE.

I hope the migrant caravan and their beautiful story of marriage is a reminder that our siblings spread across the earth. We all stand together, country by country, state by state, town by town. Over miles of countryside and ocean, from the depths of the sea to the highest peak, we are united by love, whether that be a love for justice, for a partner, or for our community.

We must not forget our siblings. We must not forget to educate ourselves to advance our activism. We must not forget all the work we still have to do. We must not forget our goal. 

Love must be the single unifier that brings us together in search of a safer, more beautiful earth. Love must be the answer.

Jessica is a member of GLSEN's National Student Council