With changing social ideals and legal protections, younger generations have more freedom in comfortably expressing their true selves. (Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash)

Right around the time when rapper DaBaby was deleting his suspect apology to the LGBTQ community for insensitive comments about gay men and HIV/AIDS, the Charlotte City Council was unanimously passing a nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO). That new legislation, which applies to large and small businesses, provides expanded protections for LGBTQ+ people and those who wear natural hairstyles. 

Now, as we look to the future, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) discussions are finding their way into our politics, offices, schools, homes and communities. Inclusive rights and a respect for diversity and inclusion are what protect and make visibility possible and a progressive world more feasible. In fact, a recent study on the amount of young people who do not identify as straight or heterosexual might actually be an indicator of the impending change of the progress and progression DEI efforts, like the NDO offer.

The global study was conducted in 27 countries and found that four percent of those in Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) identify as transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming or gendefluid. Conducted by Ipsos, a research organization, the survey captured the opinions of a relatively urban group of individuals with internet access. 

The Ipsos survey found that respondents in Generation Z were nearly four times as likely than those over the age of 40 to identify as transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, genderfluid or in another way. 

“They were also the age group most likely to identify as something other than heterosexual,” says Nicolas Boyon, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at Ipsos, “Overall, nine percent of respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual or asexual.”

“For Generation Z, the figure doubles to 18 percent. The patterns that we see in the U.S. are definitely not unique to the [United States],” he continues, “It’s a global phenomenon.” 

Worldwide, 42 percent of those surveyed said they have a gay or lesbian relative, friend or colleague, while 24 percent said they know someone who is bisexual; 10 percent said they known someone who is transgender, and nine percent said they know someone who is non-binary, gender-nonconforming or genderfluid. The likelihood is higher among women than among men in all four groups, and there is wide national variation. In Brazil, for example, 66 percent report having a gay or lesbian relative, friend or colleague, but in Japan and South Korea, the number is only seven percent.

Closer to home, Leslie Oliver is an out K-8 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools art teacher who has seen more than a little of how identity can show up in young people. She’s been teaching for 19 years with most of her professional career spent in Charlotte middle school classrooms.

“10 years ago, even if students were queer or questioning, they would never say it aloud. I could sense it or see it, but they would never dare acknowledge it,” says Oliver, “They would see it in me or other teachers, and the subject was still touch-and-go. 

“I’ve seen students beat up for just suggesting that another student was gay. Especially here in the south. Now students talk about it a bit more openly and more candidly. The bi children are very vocal about it now. More students ask me if I’m married and if I’m married to a woman. They seem to care less about what they [think they] know and who knows [who they are] than they [did] 10 years ago.”  

Though delighted and relieved by the change, Oliver still cautioned that efforts in inclusion and a continued shift in atmosphere, which would make schools in general safe spaces, need to continue. She is grateful for how many more teachers affirm their students’ identities today than did in the past, but acknowledged there is still work to be done. 

“Until all students and teachers can sit in their seats and speak candidly and exist safely,” Oliver explains, “we still have more work to do.” 

In reflecting upon the statistics the Ipsos study yielded, she questions their accuracy. 

“I’ve had the pleasure of teaching trans students who are very clear as to their identity. I’m pretty sure the numbers are greater than that [one in five identifying as non-heterosexual]. I’d say four of six, but because of queer fear I’d say the statistics are probably off. You can’t have the type of ignorance that queer fear breeds and have accurate numbers.”

Accurate or not, one thing is clear, Generation X has raised children and teens who are living in a time that affords them more protection to to be who they are than it afforded earlier generations.

And many of those youth don’t mind letting the world know, either.

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