Here, queer and full of fear: Being an LGBTQ+ student

Have you ever had to refrain from holding your partner’s hand in public because you might be harassed or even put in physical danger? Have you witnessed your ex-girlfriend get expelled and her mother get fired because “Her sexuality made other students uncomfortable”?

If you’re straight and cisgender, these most likely aren’t problems you’ve had to consider. Being neither of those things, particularly as someone who grew up in Idaho and was sent to private Christian schools, has not made my experience as a student any easier.

LGBTQ+ people everywhere have faced hatred and oppression throughout history. Although conditions have significantly improved in recent decades, queer people still face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives, especially in more conservative areas – for instance, in Idaho. 

The environment for LGBTQ+ individuals in Idaho is marked by contrasts between conservative societal norms and growing areas of support and unity. The state’s conservative cultural and religious backdrop often poses challenges for LGBTQ+ people, influencing public policy and social attitudes that can restrict rights and acceptance. 

Legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations remain inconsistent, with significant variations across different regions of the state. According to the Movement Advancement Project, Idaho’s LGBTQ+ policy tally is ranked at a 2.25/44.5.

This incredibly low score is a result of a lack of protection and solidarity offered to queer people in Idaho, for instance, the lack of family services nondiscrimination laws, state family leave laws, credit and lending nondiscrimination laws or even nondiscrimination laws for state employees.  

Going to school and going through adolescence is terrifying and exhausting as is. Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community only makes this more challenging for many young people, due to the bullying, harassment and ostracization they may be at risk of.

A queer Idaho resident who wished to remain anonymous shared their experience growing up and attending school here.

“It made me kind of insecure for a long time because I live in Idaho and being gay isn’t necessarily frowned upon, but it’s not as welcomed as it is in other places,” they said. “There were so many homophobic people at Eagle. It drove me almost crazy a couple of times, so I wasn’t open about it in high school. When you’re around that many fully straight people, being in tune with your sexuality is kind of weird.”

Being LGBTQ+ can significantly compound the challenges of student life, navigating not just academic pressure but also the added layers of social stigma, misunderstanding and sometimes outright discrimination. LGBTQ+ students often face unique problems including fear of bullying or exclusion, the struggle with self-identity in an unsupportive environment and the lack of visible role models or resources that affirm their experiences. 

These challenges can lead to feelings of isolation, heightened anxiety and difficulty focusing on school, impacting both students’ mental health and academic performance. Additionally, the constant vigilance over personal safety and the energy spent concealing one’s identity to avoid negative reactions can detract from the learning experience, making school a place of survival rather than growth and discovery.

Living in a conservative state with a heavy value on religion can be difficult for young queer people who may not have supportive family, friends, or other role models. Fortunately, opportunities for LGBTQ+ people to seek support and connection are more available than ever. 

“There’s been wonderful improvement, not only in representation, but more resources and support,” the Eagle High graduate said. “It’s really good that there’s now outlets for people so they can go talk to somebody, like specifically LGBTQ+ therapists.” 

In Idaho, queer individuals have access to a variety of resources aimed at offering support, advocacy, and community connection. The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence integrates LGBTQ+ considerations into its broader mission, providing crucial support for those facing violence. Boise Pride and Idaho Falls Pride offer vibrant platforms for celebration and solidarity, highlighting the state’s growing LGBTQ+ visibility. 

For youth and their families, The Community Center in Boise features programs and social gatherings to foster acceptance and understanding. Additionally, PFLAG chapters across the state offer a network of support for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families, promoting dialogue and acceptance. These resources, among others, play vital roles in building a more inclusive and supportive environment for queer people in Idaho.

Not being able to openly express affection, facing systemic discrimination or witnessing the harsh consequences faced by others for simply being true to themselves demonstrate the urgent need for empathy, understanding and systemic change. While progress has been made, the journey towards full acceptance and equality is far from complete.

Despite these challenges, the growing support and resources available for LGBTQ+ people offer hope to queer Idaho residents. The increasing visibility and advocacy work are crucial steps toward dismantling prejudices and building a more inclusive society. For young LGBTQ+ individuals in Idaho, these changes bring not only support but also a sense of belonging, and a promise that their voices will be heard and valued.

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