By Mikki Gillette, Major Gifts Officer

This op-ed was originally published in The Oregonian on July 7, 2021.

At Basic Rights Oregon, it’s our mission to ensure that all LGBTQ individuals in our state experience legal and lived equality. It’s for that reason we applaud the Oregon Legislature for passing Senate Bill 52, the LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Plan. This law calls on the Oregon Department of Education to create and implement an educational plan for queer students – whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/non-binary, queer/questioning, two-spirit, intersex, asexual or otherwise – in our state.

We were part of the advisory group that helped create the blueprint for this new plan, which includes new strategies for creating safer, more affirming schools, developing inclusive curriculum and training staff to better support queer and transgender students. Our group heard from students all over the state and saw firsthand the need for this law. Simply put, our system, as it is now, is not working for queer kids.

LGBTQ youth don’t see themselves in the curriculum they’re presented. They feel unsafe in the school bathrooms. They’re being bullied and harassed, but don’t report it, because they believe their teachers and administrators won’t do anything about it due to their gender identities and/or sexual orientations. For students who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, or queer students with disabilities, these negative outcomes only worsen, and, along with them, feelings of alienation and anxiety.

We know these adverse experiences can lead to terrible outcomes. LGBTQ students across the state are more likely to miss school than their straight and/or cisgender peers, and the hostile climate they face is a big contributor. Worse still, is the way these experiences can impact their mental health. A recent Oregon Healthy Teens Survey found that nearly half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual eighth-graders had contemplated suicide, while almost a third of transgender eighth-graders had attempted suicide.

More and more young people are identifying as LGBTQ in our society today. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 16% of Gen Z respondents considered themselves queer, which was nearly three times the national average. The time when we could just turn away from the mistreatment queer youth experience in our state, and console ourselves with the idea that “it gets better,” is long past. Making it better is our job today.

At Basic Rights Oregon, we know this is possible. Our state used to be ground zero for anti-gay ballot measures in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With the support of our community and pro-equality government leaders, we’ve helped transform it into one of the most LGBTQ-friendly places in the country. As our advisory group learned, though, legal equality doesn’t always translate to lived experience, especially for Black and Indigenous community members, other people of color and those with disabilities.

That’s why the passage of SB 52 is so important. This law gives the Oregon Department of Education the funds it needs to create a student success plan that will serve all our queer students and begin creating an educational environment where they can thrive. In this year, when state legislatures across the country are passing hateful laws that target and persecute transgender youth, we’re grateful Oregon can continue to be a beacon for LGBTQ progress.

We’re excited to continue our role on the advisory group and our work with the state to create the changes students need.

We heard loud and clear from the youth who shared with us what needed to change in our state’s schools. With the passage of SB 52, we believe that together, we can help make it happen.