I didn’t realise how varied the responses to this question would be until I asked the peer-educators, volunteers, friends and other young people around me.
The rationale for some who agreed that presenting yourself as LGBTIQA+ could be acceptable and useful included:
- For some young people, they may have never been exposed to a gay person in real life. Allowing them to be introduced to a (pretend) gay person before societal pressures and attitudes ‘turn them homophobic’ may result in greater tolerance and acceptance
- Assuming a character can be engaging and interesting for young people. They may be more likely to listen and respond if a flamboyant gay persona is portrayed by an educator. This might segue into talking about sexuality and attempt to change the attitudes of young people to be more accepting of LGBTIQA+.
- For the questioning or LGBTIQA+ young person listening, your open and proud declaration of your (pretend) sexuality may be affirming and important to their own sexual journey.
However well-intentioned the views above may be, I believe that pretending to be LGBTIQA+ is always unnecessary and wrong. Furthermore, it does a disservice to the integrity of you as an educator and person if you resort to this tactic to engage young people in this important topic.
- Would you feel comfortable going to an education session in blackface? I really hope not. While there are distinctions between race and sexuality, I think many powerful arguments can come by comparing the two issues. Assuming an oppressed minority identity, even with good intentions, is insulting to people who have struggled, or been bullied/assaulted/abused or even killed for their sexuality. It isn’t a character that should be worn around, but instead respected and acknowledged.
- If you’ve ever talked to a young person, you’ll know that they can smell bullshit from a mile away. I feel like some people who pretend to be LGBTIQA+ only do so to make a point, after which they might clarify to their audience that “I’m not actually gay” because they’re uncomfortable leaving people with the impression that they aren’t straight. Consider what this says to young people…
- Liar Liar 👖 on 🔥. Regardless of the negative or positive impact your tactic has had on others, what kind of educator does it make you? The shock factor and false relatability of ‘coming out’ to someone is far outweighed by the harm you are potentially doing and the loss of integrity you will suffer.
It’s just unnecessary to pretend to be LGBTIQA+ to effectively educate on any topic. It’s always possible to share a story of a ‘good friend’ or ‘I heard online’ and this can be equally effective if your storytelling skills are sharp. If you really want to expose young people to diverse sexuality and genders, then you should consider asking peer educators with real lived experiences to address them. The YEP Project has a number of peer educators with diverse lived experiences that can be requested on booking.
Sexual health and sexuality is an area still steeped in stigma and stereotyping which is why it’s so important for us to be both educators and advocates. We should continue to educate, empower and evolve young people’s perceptions towards sexual health and sexuality. However, we must do this in a responsible and ethical way. Scare tactics, appropriating other people’s identities and lying are not productive or acceptable methods.