* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Listening to Generation Z is our best shot at creating the future they deserve
Clare Kenny is director of youth engagement at GLAAD
Generation Z is growing up in a contradictory time. One minute they are told by world leaders that they are the future, the next they see an article – about climate crisis, COVID-19, you name it – that tells them we may not have a future. What I know is that listening to Gen Z – and their desire for change and action – represents our best shot at creating the future we deserve.
In my role, I follow the work and identify trends of youth, particularly LGBT+ young leaders and advocates. I’m not sure I could have ever predicted the social uprising for racial justice that we are experiencing across the globe, but I have known for some time that the next generation of powerful youth activists are a force to be reckoned with. And they didn’t just arrive.
Long before this summer, this generation of LGBT+ youth have been making real change in their communities. They’ve created Gender Sexuality Alliances (or Gay Straight Alliances) in their schools by age 13; these sorts of GSA clubs have proven results in helping LGBT+ youth feel accepted and empowered. They’ve testified before local legislators and helped harmful anti-LGBT+ laws get struck down. They’ve also gone viral, sharing informative LGBT+ content online, finding audiences that crave representation and stories about their lives.
This change does not happen overnight. This change also does not happen without the leaders and barrier breakers from the generations that came before them. But Gen Z is demanding change and getting involved at a higher level than any youth generation before them - and that matters. What has changed is that these advocates are finally being given the opportunity to be heard and accepted in their youth - and the world is listening.
Youth-centered campaigns like the March for Our Lives, Youth Climate Action, and factions of the Black Lives Matter and the DACA/Dreamer movements have dramatically transformed our societal understanding of who deserves to be at the table when it comes to imagining social justice. Many leaders from these groups, like Emma Gonzalez and Jamie Margolin, are often members of the LGBT+ community. LGBT+ youth often learn to advocate for themselves at young ages and develop into leaders who fight for others.
Studies estimate that more than 30% of Generation Z identifies as LGBT+. Without question, these Gen Zers are following in the footsteps of the 20% of Millennials who are LGBT+, a generation that grew up in – arguably – a more openly homophobic and transphobic society. But when it comes to fighting anti-LGBT+ hatred, Gen Z’s world still requires work – and we shouldn’t expect them to be the only leaders who are stepping up to create this cultural shift.
Despite the hard-fought wins for the queer community over the past several years, LGBT+ youth are still fighting for acceptance in their homes, schools, and communities. When it comes to bullying, more than 70% of youth report being verbally harassed because of their identities.
The bullying does not stop at verbal harassment, as 1 in 3 LGBT+ youth report being physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBT+ identity. This sort of harassment can lead to LGBT+ youth experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Since its grassroots beginnings, Spirit Day has transformed into a global campaign where leaders in media, government, advocacy, entertainment, sports, and beyond raise awareness and shine a light on LGBT+ youth.
Within the campaign’s 11-year lifespan, millions of LGBT+ youth and their families have experienced the impact of Spirit Day. These communities have heard real stories of queer and trans resilience, watched their favorite athlete or celebrity tell them they love them just as they are, and seen their teachers teach a lesson on LGBT+ acceptance. And as we look to celebrate another banner year of LGBT+ spirit, I look forward to the future of what Spirit Day will mean and what it can evolve to be in the next 11 years.