Reps. Olson and Koppelman fail to represent their full constituencies
As reported in The Forum, two state legislators criticized the West Fargo Public Library for promoting an LGBT book display during the Fargo-Moorhead Pride celebration. In my opinion, Reps. Christopher Olson and Ben Koppelman are failing to represent their full constituencies, which undoubtedly include LGBT residents. Their comments were a direct and damaging insult to children being raised in West Fargo. I found these comments to be unfortunate and disheartening. As a Davies High School graduate, I understand the overall conservative composition of the area. However, I remain convinced that these specific opinions represent only a minority of residents.
It is especially disheartening when considering the specific publications seen in the photo of the library's display, which are seemingly not in the same vein of the "ideology of sexual fluidity, promiscuity, experimentation and deviation" alleged by Olson. For instance, "The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq" is the story of a gay man in the military forced to repress his sexuality to avoid being discharged. "Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle" details the LGBT fight for civil rights and was described by The Economist as "the most comprehensive history to date of America's gay-rights movement." "Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth" focuses entirely on supporting youth in the school system to avoid marginalization.
The reported comments by Olson and Koppelman, however, afford us an opportunity to discuss the reasons to provide more educational resources, not less. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 92 percent of LGBT youth hear negative messages about being LGBT, while 68 percent of LGBT youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT from elected leaders.
North Dakota already has comparatively low protections for LGBT citizens, so statements of this nature compound the problem even further. According to the Trevor Project, the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for LGB youth and two times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth. These statistics should not, and cannot, be taken lightly.
Olson also mentioned that he had discussed "these issues," referring to LGBT lifestyles, with his children. I sincerely hope that none of his children are hiding an LGBT identity because, according to the Trevor Project, LGBT youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide.
These types of issues precipitated me to co-found an organization at the University of North Dakota to increase visibility of the LGBT community, while also fostering relationships with straight allies. The "I Am Here" campaign (facebook.com/IAmHereLGBTQ) is a movement to ensure young people understand that they are supported by people and resources. I am consistently seeking ways to expand this program and I'd invite you to reach out to me or others if you'd like to learn more about advancing today's LGBT youth. Positive advancements can and do arise from negative situations. Instead of dividing us further, let's seek to understand and support one another through education and compassion.