It’s often the case that the things that seem important to teenagers become insignificant as adulthood is reached. Fights with parents, popularity, a particularly tough test and relationships that last a month or two often occupy the minds and hearts of the high school-aged crowd.
But for some teens, this is hardly the case. For some, activism is more important than a prom date, and making a difference in their lives and the lives of peers trumps wearing the right clothes, or listening to the right music. In Washtenaw County, and specifically Ann Arbor, these teens go by the name of Riot Youth.
Instead of just partying, cruising with friends and figuring themselves out, the young adults of Riot Youth, an organization at the Neutral Zone for LGBT youth, are making names for themselves in the world of LGBT activism.
These teens are responsible for a survey that asked over 1,100 Ann Arbor youth about their experiences with bullying, harassment and exposure to LGBT issues and role models. They asked about LGBT sex issues in health class, or the presence of LGBT authors or historical figures in classroom or textbook conversations. And they asked about bullying.
The results were discouraging, but the drive and passion of the members of Riot Youth is inspiring.
They can’t vote, many can’t go to Lansing for lobbying days and they can’t run for political office or hold a job as a political or social activist. Yet they’re still doing work that’s just as important and relevant as the work adults do for bullying prevention. And they do it for the simplest of reasons: because they don’t want to live in a society that can push them or their friends around anymore.
However, one resounding complaint coming from the youth is that their voices are often not part of the equation.
Many of the teens of Riot Youth expressed concern that the fight for Matt’s Safe Schools Law does not include their input. Moreover, several also think that discussions about youth-related issues in conferences like Creating Change and dominated by adults, and feel that they should be asked what their opinions and feelings are.
And they’re right.
Youth need to go to lobbying days. They need to be educated on anti-bullying legislation and where it stands in the government – because many of them don’t know. They need to know where LGBT rights stand in their city, state and country.
But who will tell them?
They certainly aren’t being taught about LGBT issues and legal battles in school. Many of their parents are either not accepting or not educated on these issues. Who will teach these future leaders of the LGBT rights movement what is going on, where we have come from and what we are fighting for? Who will make sure that when they do become adults and can vote, work as lobbyists, run for political offices, become fair-minded doctors and run all the aspects of our world, that they will do it with equality and fairness in mind?
The answer is: All of us.
Go to Riot Youth, the Neutral Zone, the Ruth Ellis Center, the Ozone House, Affirmations or any other LGBT youth-related center and teach them. That way, they can take their passion and drive and fresh ideas on these issues and turn out real results for our community now, and in the future.