Queer people have had to search hard for role models. Societal biases force them into closets, shadows, and private spaces out of sight of those who need them most. But that has been changing for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people, and more recently for Transgender folks. Trans representation has experienced a surge in visibility, with celebrities opening up and speaking out. Still, it takes more than an LGTBQ+ celebrity to inspire widespread courage; it takes everyday LGBTQ+ role models living openly.
Accessible LGBTQ+ Role Models
Support for the Queer community is usually strongest in June, during Pride Month. When support for the LGBTQ+ community extends beyond Pride, that is when it becomes more impactful. It can give those on the edge of living openly the confidence they may need to live openly to both the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
As a Queer Trans woman, I pull courage from sources like Trans rocker Laura Jane Grace and author and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan. Yet, I was equally influenced by everyday people I met as I began my transition. Jerome Holston, director of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, was quoted in an article stating, “When companies appoint LGBTQ employees to senior positions, it shows entry and mid-level employees that they can succeed at an organization.”
Living openly in various fields of work helps people find confidence, support, hope, and validation more accessible. When more Queer people are comfortable being themselves openly, they become role models for others. Additionally, with more people living openly, the likelihood of cishet (cisgender heterosexual) people personally knowing someone who is Queer increases, and research has shown these personal relationships build LGBTQ+ allies and help advance equality and acceptance.
I looked to Trans and Queer lawyers, programmers, and other professionals. Their visibility resonated with my internal sense of who I am and what I can be—year-round visibility made possible by commitments from companies that center LGBTQ+ issues beyond Pride month.
Visibility Doesn’t Promise Safety
As Trans visibility increases, so do threats to our safety. Similarly to efforts to outlaw same-sex marriage, we see a spate of legislative action at the state level targeting Trans people, and more specifically, Trans youth. Although one could rightfully look at this negatively, I see a path to overcoming this attack on Trans lives.
It is abundantly clear that the increasing amount of LGBTQ+ representation matters. Visibility has significantly advanced the acceptance of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people in the US—even up to 58% approval by those who identify or lean Republican. While not directly connected, I believe this increase in acceptance will help advance equality efforts for the Trans community.
Today, 1-in-6 Gen Z’ers identify as LGBTQ+; this generation will reach new equality and acceptance levels for all LGBTQ+ identities. As they have become a focus demographic for marketers, messaging has changed to be more inclusive of all LGBTQ+ identities. Given the realities of our capitalist society, consumerism will drive this increased level of acceptance. No matter how we gain visibility and representation, it continues to rise despite attempts to push it back down. With the significant increase in people who live openly among Gen Z, I place my hope in these everyday role models to advance equality.
Role models, whether willing or pushed into that position, exist for everyone. We can see our potential in others who have trodden the path ahead of us and have thrived.