Representation matters: LGBTQ+ youth deserve the right to vote
The “queerest generation yet” could change the face of justice and rights for the LGBTQ+ community
As a sixteen year-old in the year 2020, I am honestly and rightly terrified of what the future holds for me.
In my lifetime I will live out the consequences of inaction on climate change and long-term government debt. Yet despite the severity of the issues and dire consequences I will face, my perspective as a young person is not represented at the political polls, and it certainly isn’t represented by the individuals who are elected to public office.
The LGBTQ+ Community
An example of an injustice that could be understood and addressed by the youth vote is discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community. We are now approaching the end of June. June is celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community as Pride Month and consequently is also the month anti-LGBTQ+ attacks are more common.
One example of this is “Operation Pridefall” — a yearly initiative by hate groups to strike fear into the LGBTQ+ community. Individuals who participate in Operation Pridefall target members of the LGBTQ+ community online and send them disturbing imagery including videos of queer individuals being brutally beaten or raped.
I myself identify as a queer non-binary woman and am a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. I do feel fear around anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives like Operation Pridefall. Attacks like these make me question my safety and my ability to authentically represent myself. If I had the right to vote, I would use it to further queer issues and protect myself, as well as the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.
Another reason I’d like to vote is so I can support political candidates who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Representation matters. They understand the issues our community faces.
Some federal politicians who represent queer interests and the LGBTQ+ community include Amita Kuttner who is a non-binary person currently running as a leadership candidate for the federal Green Party, and Randall Garrison who is the MP for the B.C. riding of Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke and the NDP critic on LGBTQ2 issues. Amita is a huge advocate for youth, action on climate change and representing LGBTQ+ people on a national scale. In Parliment, Randall is a champion for issues like banning conversion therapy on a national scale, lifting the ban on blood donations from men who are sexually active with men and improving access to gender-affirming healthcare for gender non-conforming Canadians.
Provincially, the BC NDP has made much needed improvements to LGBTQ+ rights in B.C. The party boasts six MLAs who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and their constitution’s equity mandate ensures that diverse candidates, including LGBTQ+ candidates, will continue to be put forward.
This representation is certainly encouraging, but it is only one step in the right direction. Real input from young people is also needed in order to create space for young LGBTQ+ voices.
Being a young queer person in 2020 makes me feel a bit, well… queer. For most of my life I didn’t see members of the LGBTQ+ community in the media and I didn’t see myself represented in our society. I didn’t know that terms like “queer” or “non-binary” existed, and I definitely didn’t know I could use them to describe myself.
In our society our identity is so attached to the sex we are born as or the gender we present. A desire to not identify or to identify with both genders doesn’t fit into the binary gender norms assigned by society. It can feel terrifying to not fit in, especially when other people seem to do it so easily and flawlessly.
Politically and socially I’ve felt misrepresented. I’ve felt like there wasn’t anyone sharing my perspective as a young LGBTQ+ person. I’ve seen my community be alienated from decision-making processes and active discrimination against queer people. Recently, U.S. president Donald Trump removed non-discrimination protections for transgender people in health care, allowing doctors to discriminate against trans people and ignore their needs for treatment. It’s scary to know that decisions like this can be made in a country so similar to Canada — more so when I remember that I am only a border away.
While legislative discrimination against LGBTQ+ is not as extreme or obvious in Canada as they are in the United States, it does exist. It was only just recently, this past March, that legislation was finally introduced to criminalize conversion therapy federally. This bill will protect minors from being forced to undergo conversion therapy and prevents individuals who practice conversion therapy from profiting from it.
Lifting up youth voices
There is still much work to be done in order to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people in Canada. One example of a support for LGBTQ+ people that would be particularly of interest to queer youth is more education in public schools around LGBTQ+ people, identity and culture, as well as more supports for youth who are struggling with coming into their identities, or are facing bullying or discrimation because of them. If high school students had direct input into their school curriculum, in a formalized way, we could shape our education to actually reflect our needs.
Today’s youth — Generation Z — are the queerest generation yet. Only 66 per cent of young people today identify as heterosexual according to a study from Ipsos Mori. Consequently, they are one of the generations that cares most about LGBTQ+ issues, something that would no doubt be reflected in their choices as voters.
Lowering the voting age could be especially powerful for young LGBTQ+ people as it would give us more decision-making power in the ways we are represented as individuals and as a community. It may also increase our comfort in our identities, and help us feel like the country and community are both safe and accepting places to come out of the closet into.
Issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, racial discrimination, long term government debt and LGBTQ+ oppression affect British Columbian youth on a day-to-day basis. Whether this is through constant media exposure or direct impacts, youth face these issues in ways that affect our physical, mental and emotional health.
Lower the voting age in B.C.
I live in a world where the decisions made about my future are out of my hands. I can only idly watch the consequences as short-term decisions are made about problems that require long-term solutions. I live in a world where my voice carries infinitely less weight when it comes to decisions directly involving my life and my future. The choices made by my representatives do not reflect my unique perspective as a young person.
It does not matter how ready I am to vote now. It does not matter how much research I have done into the parties that best represent my views or how much I care about issues that require political action now. Turning eighteen will not result in revelations or changes that suddenly make me responsible enough to vote. In truth, turning eighteen only gives young people more responsibilities. It does not ensure that we are developmentally mature enough to handle them. Some individuals may be ready to vote far before they turn eighteen and others may not be until years later, but this is not a phenomena our system accounts for in its arbitrary age discrimination.
Decisions that are negatively impacting my future are taking place now. Decisions are being made that put my safety, as well as the safety of all youth and all future youth, at risk. Decisions are being made by those who will not feel their long-term consequences. Why should I not have a say in my future? And what better way for me to directly impact the outcomes of issues I care about than to give me the right to vote?