For this year’s Schools Diversity Week (26th-30th of June), we are celebrating the efforts that schools around the country make to improve LGBTQ+ inclusion in education. Having access to diverse literature can be a huge help for teenagers who are just now starting to explore their identities. Here, at Books2all, we are hoping to make more inclusive school libraries into reality.
Why is it important for LGBTQ+ teenagers to find their identity?
So, how exactly can queer books foster a stronger sense of self in teenagers?
It’s no secret that the teenage years are one of the most challenging periods in one’s development. The world you live in suddenly becomes much larger, and it feels like you’re thrown into a sea of possibilities without a life vest. That is especially true for LGBTQ+ teenagers. At this age, they may be introduced to many different labels and possible identities. They may start expressing themselves differently through clothing and make-up, or by changing labels and pronouns that are more in line with how they feel.
Experimenting with one’s identity doesn’t always lead to permanent changes. However, it is a necessary step in discovering more about yourself. The simple act of attaching a label to your identity as a teenager can help you understand your feelings better. It can even help you find communities of people that you can relate to.
How does the lack of identity affect queer teens?
Achieving a strong sense of identity as a queer teenager can be particularly difficult, especially if you don’t have lots of support around you.
In communities that are not very accepting, LGBTQ+ teenagers may feel pressured to express themselves in ways that are not true to who they are. This can lead to a loss of identity correlated with low self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression.
Not only that, but sexuality and gender are a spectrum, and sometimes it can be hard to even find the right labels or the best ways to express yourself. This can lead to feeling invalidated and lonely around your peers.
For me in particular, as a queer person that grew up in a country with no LGBTQ+ representation, not being able to relate to most people was a big source of anxiety. It led to a lot of questioning and self-doubt in my teenage years and later on. I didn’t have a strong sense of self and chose to conform to what was considered normal, leading to lots of unhappy years.
How can reading help teenagers find themselves?
The best way to ensure queer teenagers have an easier time finding their identity is by giving them access to diverse literature featuring LGBTQ+ characters. Here are a few ways in which diverse reading can help both queer teens and their allies:
Seeing yourself in a book or any media can feel validating
Representation matters, especially for young people. Reading about fictional characters that feel and think the same as them can give teens the validation and comfort that they lack in real life.
Books can help teenagers extend their scope for the future
Queer books can also help teenagers find positive role models to shape their life by. Reading about characters pursuing various career choices can help teens realise that those choices are accessible to them as well. As a result, they become more ambitious and dedicated to their goals.
Books can help teens explore possible selves
Reading diverse literature can also lead teens to discover new identities that they resonate with. A study by Richardson & Eccles (2007) on the benefits of reading towards developing an identity stated that:
“Reading allowed adolescents to explore possible selves – an interest in historical figures helped one African American male to develop values resisting stereotypes of male or African American, just as an African American female came to resist conforming to gender and racial stereotypes in dress and occupational ambitions.”Richardson & Eccles (2007)
Books raise awareness of the cultural diversity of the world
Perhaps the most important benefit of bringing more diverse literature into your school’s curriculum is simply to educate queer teens and their allies. Books written by queer authors or featuring LGBTQ+ characters help show young people just how culturally diverse the world around them is. This fosters a much more accepting attitude toward any and all kinds of identities that will stick with them their whole life.
For many teenagers around the UK, school is one of the only safe spaces for them to express their identities. That is why we believe all school libraries should have access to diverse literature written by LGBTQ+ authors.
You can also help build safe spaces in your local school’s libraries by signing up on the Books2all app and donating queer books to schools near you.
Richardson PW, Eccles JS, 2007. Rewards of reading: Toward the development of possible selves and identities. Int J Educ Res.
If you have LGBTQ literature that you would like to donate to a school, download our app to get started