Growing up, I realized there was something about me that was different from most of the other kids. While I’m grateful to have never experienced physical violence from other kids, I was often the butt of a lot of jokes. My innate queerness and calm disposition made me a target for all sorts of names and harassment. Considering the lack of queer representation back then, I grew up to be fearful of standing out amongst other people. I didn’t truly understand what it meant to be queer, but I had seen how others reacted to their misinterpretation of it, and it made me want to be seen as anything but that.
I was fortunate enough that I was able to stay motivated and not focus on the bullying as I grew up, but that’s not the case for everyone. Students who are bullied are likely to develop depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and suicidal thoughts . Research has shown that circumstances that foster higher density and inegalitarian conditions in classrooms increase bullying and the stability of bullying victimisation over time .
Educators and organizers have come to realize how important an issue this is. Bullying prevention initiatives and programs have emerged, but a problem has been observed: initiatives implemented outside of the United States—with more homogenous groups of people—are more victorious than programs implemented within the United States with more diverse populations .
A lot of the conversations about diversity and inclusion talk about how successful it is in giving a more representative point of view, allowing different perspectives to come together in a given space. However, based on the data, we can see how simply including folks doesn’t do much to alter the power structures that excluded them in the first place. Although inclusion is a great step toward a safe and equitable environment, it must be implemented in a way that facilitates and supports collaboration among peers. You cannot simply bring a group of people from different backgrounds together and expect them to mesh into a communal unit when they have no idea how to relate to each other.
I also believe it is important to have visibility and representation of all experiences within media and mass communication. These days, we are seeing more diverse bodies and hearing untold stories in media and pop culture, but there is still much room for improvement. The earlier that children are exposed to others that look, think, and act differently, the more normalized these things seem to them. And I would argue representation is even more important for the marginalized children, who will finally be able to see themselves in magazines, television shows, and billboards. If I would’ve had access to queer icons that looked and talked like me, I would have been more comfortable being my true self at a younger age. Access to representation can help young people imagine a future for themselves where they are happy being their true selves, and can help dispel low self-esteem and deteriorating mental health.