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Faiza: From PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

Matt: and WETA Well Beings,

Faiza: this is “On Our Minds”

Matt: with Matt

Faiza: and Faiza –

Matt: a podcast about teenagers and mental health - because life is hard.

Faiza: ... and we’re all going through something - and hearing stories about what other teens are going through and how they're getting better, it helps.

Matt: A note before we get started. Today, we're going to be discussing LGBTQ identity and the challenges that can result when we're not fully accepted or represented. If you or someone you know needs help, we have a list of resources available at

Faiza:  Also, we recommend you listen to this podcast with a friend or a trusted adult.

Faiza: Hi, Matt.


Matt: Hi, Faiza.


Faiza: [00:01:01] And also hello to all our listeners.


Matt: [00:01:08] On today's episode, we're going to be talking to teens about their experiences identifying as LGBTQ, which, stands for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer.


Faiza: It can be a confusing time for teenagers if they don't fit into society’s or their parents expectations.


Matt: It can definitely be very difficult and that's something I have dealt with myself and that is something I talk about with Noah later on in this episode, actually, about what the LGBTQ experience looks like in our different high schools, because it can really vary across the country and vary across the different communities we're in.


Faiza: And identifying as LGBTQ is especially difficult for teenagers from immigrant families who hold strict views of gender roles and expectations for their children.


Matt: Nandita is from Georgia. And she felt it's important for these voices to be heard.


Faiza: And she's here with us now. Hi, Nandita.


Nandita: Hi, Matt and Faiza. Thanks for having me.  


Matt: So I have a lot of friends in my school who identify as LGBTQ, who are out to me and or out to other people in the school, but not necessarily their parents. And through our interactions, like, for instance, like if we're going to hang out or something and they'll talk about how they have to like talk to their parents or something like that, it's very clear that they do have this struggle with different cultural values or religious values in their family that can make it harder for them to exist as a member of the LGBTQ community.  

Nandita: So there isn’t a lot of representation for people of color in queer spaces, and when people are trying to balance a bunch of different cultural values, it can be comforting to see they are not alone because … It can be really hard to hide yourself. It's difficult to see people all around you hanging out with their significant others and showing displays of affection. But when you imagine doing that with your partner, you get a lot of criticism. And so it feels really unfair at times.


Faiza: I also understand it was really difficult for the teens you interviewed to share their stories publicly.


Nandita: Yeah, so the people I interviewed are all closeted. And so we had to go to discrete locations away from their parents. Like we had to go to parking lots behind restaurants. We had to record at night. So their parents were asleep and wouldn't hear them talking about this because they would get a lot of backlash from their parents And some people agreed to be a part of this project at first. But then as they started talking about it, they figured out that these things were actually pretty painful to talk about, and they decided they didn't want to be a part of the project anymore, so they backed out.


Matt: We want to thank you very much for sharing these important stories. And in order to protect their privacy, the following students use pseudonyms, and their voices are slightly changed.


Claire: Hi. My name is Claire, and I am an 18 year old girl I’m of Eastern European and Hispanic descent.

Ellie: Hi, I'm Ellie. I'm Ethiopian. Oh, which is in East Africa. And I'm queer.

Claire: My parents are both immigrants and I am not going to lie, when I was really young I kind of just gay people was kind of like weird like outcasts because on my mom's side, they're kind of just used as, like, punch lines for jokes. And my dad's side of the family, including my dad, are very strictly conservative and don't think that, like, LGBT people should have, like, rights. My dad would like, get mad at my mom for even mentioning that gay people exist. Like, he would be like, “can you not teach our children about vile and unnatural behavior?”.

Ellie: I think my parents are homophobic … I don't think they've ever talked to somebody or had any close connections to somebody who is LGBTQ. So they really have never experienced somebody who is kind and warm and loving, just like everyone else in their life but is also gay. I don't think they’ll ever change.Gayness is never discussed. It's seen more as taboo, if anything. And East African culture, it is pretty conservative. So you don't see a lot of people showing pride for their sexuality or really any part of them that diverts from the norm.

Claire: One big event in my life that really got me changing my mind about the way LGBT people really are is when I begin an argument with my dad about if gay people should have the right to adopt children. And later on, he came to my room and asked me if I was gay. And I was like, “no, of course not”, but then I was like, “oh, but if I were, why would you have a problem with that?”. And that turned into like the biggest argument of my life with him over like he was screaming at me, I was cursing at him. And that really just made me think, maybe my dad isn't right about everything. Maybe like, you can just be ignorant of other people's, like, customs, just like anybody else. There's definitely this sense within immigrant families that you always have to rely on each other as a family because you're kind of all you have in this new land. Right? So I always feel very obligated to still keep in touch and respect them no matter what. But at a certain point, I just still can't tolerate when my dad goes off on really hateful rants or anything.

Ellie: In middle school, I had so many friends who came out as queer, as gay and bisexual as PAN and that just introduced me to a whole plethora of language to describe what I was feeling. And in high school, when I started thinking more about it and actually exploring the feelings that I have, I discovered that it's not just for people who are male presenting, but also for people who are non-binary. People who are girls.

Claire: Meeting my friend group that I have now in middle school taught me, sexuality isn't just like black or white, and it isn't only reserved for people who choose that path of life, you know? So that really just got me to thinking about, like my own sexuality. And eventually in about, like ninth or 10th grade, I began to think that I was bi. But obviously I would never tell my parents that because they would definitely judge me and my dad would probably have sent me to some sort of conversion camp or something like that.

Ellie: I know a lot of cultures, their religion and their culture is so intertwined that you can't have a culture and have the religion be separated. If people from the church say that gay is bad, then they will also repeat the sentiment, even if they don't necessarily know what it means. The culture reflects that and it also reflects on my parents. I think it also comes with a lot of the other conservative values that they hold, not only just based on sexuality, but like the life that they expect me to live. After, you know, I graduate and have a career and expect me to start having a family. It's not even a question that you will have a husband. You will have four, five, six kids. And it's very like multigenerational types of family dynamics in which, like your parents live with you, your grandparents live with you. And I don't think that's realistic for the life that I want to live, the happiest life I want to live. And I think that's a main reason why I feel a lot of guilt, because there are so many expectations that I know that I can't fulfill if I want my life to be truly mine. If not the social fear that something will happen to me negatively. If I was clear in terms of like anti LGBTQ hate and a lot of people who are attacked, but also just having a queer daughter or a queer son or just a queer sibling or child seems like it ruins their their perfect family dynamic and puts a lot of things into question.

Claire: It's definitely still pretty hard and scary at the thought of telling my parents about this side of me because honestly, most of my friends don't even know. I kind of just keep it to myself. Everything that has to do with my sexuality. But I think in the future I might be comfortable enough to tell my mom, but never my dad just because of the conservative culture he was raised in. The whole idea is that like men have to be super masculine and provide for their family. And I think he sees like gay people as like a perversion of that. And I think that's what makes them so mad. It's just that like, he doesn't understand why someone wouldn't want to fit into the traditional rules of society. But like, my mom is definitely a lot more laid back and like at least somewhat accepting to new ideas and her and her family, like they've gone through a lot as Hispanic immigrants. And so nowadays they seem to still be more chill and being able to laugh with each other about things. But yeah, there definitely is still some of that judgment.

Ellie: I don't think I would ever come out to my parents. As you get older, you develop a better relationship with your parents because you have distance between you and your family. And I think any questions or any idea about my sexuality is just another barrier that I have to keep between me and them to keep things cordial and to keep them in my life. I've definitely considered being more open with my sexuality, especially in college, which is going to be the first time that I'm away from my parents for a significant amount of time. And I feel like having that sense of security makes me feel more comfortable actually interacting with people with my sexuality in mind and not having to friendzone everyone, even if I'm interested in them. Due to the fear that somehow my parents would find out and create a lot of drama that I really don't want in a very important time of my life.

Claire: It's important to realize that you can still be a part of your family and respect them without having to give them everything they want. Because at the end of the day, you're your own person, and if you're making yourself happy, then it's not going to go well for any of you.

Ellie: I want to say that being queer wasn't a choice for you. Do not feel ashamed or guilty about loving who you love and feeling what you feel. And I want to let you know that your life is for you. Even if everyone around you fits their parents expectations and all you want to do is be the same. At the end of the day, it is you who is living your life, and it is you who are making your choices. And I hope you choose to be happy.


Matt: That was a very courageous message at the end of the interview. It takes a lot of mental strength to balance your happiness with your family's expectations of you.


Faiza: Yeah. And also trying to figure out how and when to come out with your identity. It takes a lot of strength. I can only imagine it's hard to keep that part of yourself secret.


Matt: You'll hear the story about how I was outed and my discussion with Noah later. But before we got to that, we'd like to show you two responses from students about the importance of representation in pop culture.


Eloise: There's a lot about pop culture that is pretty negative, but it can also help you find out who you are in this world. Glee was a big part of me accepting and discovering my sexuality, and Glee was great at showcasing LGBTQ plus representation. And so it quickly became my comfort show. Santana Lopez, a typical mean cheerleader who then became the nice, accepting, most friendly character in later seasons, was my favorite character. What I really loved about Santana was that her character development with her sexuality was really gradual. A lot of the time in shows, characters just always knew that they were gay, and there's not really a build up to discovering who they are. But Santana was really gradual, and in fact, it took her three seasons to realize that she was in love with her best friend, Brittany. And a lot of people can relate to Santana’s story because she was both not accepted by her grandma and she was outed by her friend in high school. And both I’ve unfortunately seen happen.

Phin: Something in pop culture that has made me feel seen is the fact that Loki from the series Loki on Disney Plus is gender fluid. A lot of people don't know what gender fluidity is, and it's hard to try and explain it to them when they have no examples. And it's difficult to try and be their example because I'm like, I'm gender fluid and they're like, What's that? And I'm just like, whatever I am. To my knowledge, there hasn't been any other depictions of people who are gender fluid or non-binary or somewhere just off the binary completely. In any like large media production, especially not at Disney. And so this is like, kind of revolutionary for me and the people who identify off of the binary.



Matt: Hi, Noah, and welcome to the podcast. So I'm sure a lot of our listeners are already familiar with you, considering that you were a podcast host for the first season of On Our Minds. But with that being said, for any listeners who are just starting off in the second season, I was thinking maybe you would like to introduce yourself.


Noah: Hi, everyone. I'm 17. I'm from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and I identify as queer, both sexually and for my gender. I do go by he/they, though, for my pronouns, but I don't really mind whatever you call me.


Matt: I guess I should introduce myself too just in terms of how I identify. I identify identify as gay. I use him pronouns. And I guess just to start off, I think that one thing that I wanted to bring up specifically about LGBTQ mental health is schools, because obviously I think that's where a lot of our interactions with other people happen. How in general do you feel about how LGBTQ mental health is treated in schools currently?


Noah: It definitely depends on, you know, what school you go to, and what area you live in. Where I live, it's relatively conservative, so it's kind of something that people don't really talk about. But there is a very strong LGBTQ population in my school, and for those who do support it, they're very vocal about that. And that's appreciated, but in terms of like our administration and proactive LGBTQ solutions to issues and stuff like that, there's not a lot in place.


Matt: What type of changes do you think that administrators, so maybe teachers or other students can make to be more inclusive, more inviting and create that sort of safe space for members of the LGBTQ community.


Noah: So like in health class, LGBTQ ideals and education is not really there. You know, it's important that not only are we teaching the coming through generations, but also the current generation of teachers.


Matt: I think both in health class and even at other classes like history, just the fact that we don't really talk about queer figures in history I think is something that we're missing. I also have the privilege of going to a school that's more progressive. So you do see instances of teachers trying to be inclusive and specifically with guidance counselors. I think they do a relatively good job. But I do agree with you that I think that the majority of the advocacy does come from the student body. And I was wondering, in what ways does your school’s student body show that advocacy like do you have a group setting or safe spaces in your school? I guess for members of the LGBTQ community.


Noah: We did have a GSA club, but even within GSA, it kind of felt like we were sort of like outsiders and it wasn't really something all that serious. One of the goals of our GSA was to give queer history and sex education for LGBTQ people. But even then it really fell short because there's only so much that they're kind of allowed to talk about, if that makes sense.


Matt:  Yeah, I totally understand that. And I think you brought up a really interesting point when you talked about the energy that surrounds GSA. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that. Do you feel that there's like this sense of competitiveness that does exist in that school environment for members of the LGBTQ community?


Noah: Yeah, I do sort of get what you mean there. I think it's more of like there's sort of like a peer pressure when it comes to like trying to find yourself in your identity and like putting a label on everything. And that's like one of the reasons why I identify as queer is because I don't really believe that you have to put a label on every single thing to be who you are. And I definitely feel like that pressure to figure yourself out and like let everybody know and having people like you before you're ready, that's something that I definitely think exists and something that we need to change.


Matt: I was wondering on that last point. Did you have that sort of experience where you were like outed by someone against your own will? Or have you seen that happen to like any of your friends who are part of the LGBTQ community?


Noah: Yeah, I have I have a twin brother and he identifies as gay and he was outed. It was by a family member. But like, you know, it's still the same. I've seen friends be outed by peers and I haven't experienced it myself personally. Not to my knowledge. I get how awful of a feeling must be because you're not getting it done on your own terms.  

Matt:  I had a feeling ever since like fourth grade. But I finally said, like, in the mirror, like, oh, I'm. I'm gay in eighth grade. And later that year in around May. This is a really awkward time for my mom to bring it up as like 20 minutes before I had a dentist appointment and she was like, “oh, by the way, I heard from someone, you know, like, are you gay?” And at first I said no, but then it was like awkward for like 10 seconds. I was like, Yeah. And I just ended up saying it. And at least in my sense, I guess I felt relieved because I genuinely don't know, because I'm a junior now, I don't even know if I would have told my parents had that not happened to me. But that being said, there is still that sense of emptiness that's like I didn't really have that choice or authority on how I came out and it happened against my own. I was also wondering what advice that you would have for people who are in the process of like coming to terms with their sexuality, maybe in a more conservative area.


Noah: I would just say, don't rush it. It's your personal information and you don't owe it to anybody to identify. I think it's definitely important to, like, have input from like people that you really trust, like really close friends or family members. It's important also to know is that coming out is not a requirement of being gay or LGBTQ, you know, it's something that you should only do if you feel comfortable doing it. And if you don't, there's nothing wrong with that.


Matt: I definitely agree. I was also wondering what your thoughts are or how you respond to people who kind of flip it around, people who say like, oh, well, like gay people have this unfair advantage, like they'll get better grades in English or stuff like that, or teachers will like them more because they're gay or they have this like unfair advantage. What are your thoughts on that?


Noah: It feels dehumanizing. It's like we're all like treated as objects and nobody sees the bigger picture that we're just people. My sexuality does not make me better at English than somebody who is not. There's all these stereotypes. They don't apply to everybody.


Noah: So I have a question for you Matt, what’s your opinion on like the gay hierarchy and all these LGBTQ issues. Like in your experience, like what's it like at your school?


Matt: I would say to my school, it's kind of in the way that like gay people are placed above trans people and a level of importance. Trans people aren't really mentioned as much or considered in these discussions, and it's usually about gay people, specifically white gay people are generally treated better. So then within that community, when you have people that are being placed on the bottom of the pyramid, it obviously just creates a much worse mental health situation. And by doing that, they'll make fun of members within their own community, which obviously hurts everyone. Which is especially ironic, too, because as you had mentioned, most of the times, members of spectrum clubs, or GSA clubs are the ones that are trying to make a positive impact in the school in terms of the LGBTQ community. So it's very sad to see that those people are mistreated.

Matt: Thank you so much, Noah, for this conversation, because I think just having that healthy dialog about being queer is really great to have, especially for our listeners who are queer, who have come out, who haven't come out yet, who maybe aren't even in high school yet and don't necessarily know how to navigate that. I just think it's a great conversation that is helpful for a lot of our listeners, and I think it's a very productive one. So I'm glad that we were able to speak today.


Noah: Yeah, me too. It's really good to see other people who are willing to publicly advocate for LGBTQ issues. So thank you for having me.


Faiza: That was a powerful conversation Matt, and I'm really glad you opened up about your own experiences at home and also at school.


Matt:  Yeah, I think it's extremely helpful for teens like me who feel this way and maybe haven't come out yet or are unsure of how to handle that experience. To hear from others who have gone through it.


Faiza:  And I guess that is why it's important for LGBTQ teens to be represented in the media, which ties into what we have coming up next: a one on one interview with the author of All Boys Aren't Blue, George Johnson.


Matt: Johnson says he hopes that sharing his story growing up black and queer empowers LGBTQ teens and is a way for him to fight back against restrictive LGBTQ laws being passed in some states.


Faiza: If you found this episode helpful, you don't want to miss that interview.


Matt: Definitely. Well, Faiza, it's time to roll the credits


Faiza: LGBTQ representation in media responses were submitted by Eloise from Haldane High School in Cold Spring, New York, and Phin from Howard Public School in Tampa, Florida

Matt: SRL Student Correspondent Nandita produced the interviews with two of her friends, and many thanks to former On Our Minds host Noah Konevitch for taking time to talk with me.


Faiza: This episode was produced and edited by Student Reporting Lab's Youth Media Producer Chris Schwalm, with help from Bridgtte Ganske.


Matt: Executive Producer of Leah Clapman  and help from the rest of the Student Reporting Labs staff.


Faiza: And music by Blue Dot Sessions.


Matt: Once again, if you or someone you know needs help, we have a list of resources available at

Faiza: And tell your friends about us. Spread the word. The more people who know about mental health, the better.