I Am Giovanni

Supporting LGBTQ youth will save lives

by George M. Johnson

Photo courtesy Giovanni’s Facebook memorial page

This should go without saying, but in 2017 it seems that nothing can be left off the table in terms of what should and shouldn’t still need reminding. We must protect our children. Children should be allowed the space to grow and learn and be nurtured as they are, with those responsible for them hellbent on creating the safe spaces needed for them to exist. Unfortunately, a young man by the name of Giovanni Melton will never get to see adulthood, as his life was stolen by the very person meant to protect it.

Giovanni Melton was fourteen years old when he was murdered by his father for being gay this past November. No matter how hard I’ve tried to shake the story from bothering me, it is sitting so heavy on my chest like a pile of bricks that I simply cannot move. My heart aches for boys like Giovanni, who don’t get a chance to see adulthood because it is taken from them by the community that should be protecting him. A society that is unwilling to change the archaic narrative of a binary that has become dangerous to the existence of marginalized people. A state that is intent on keeping people like Giovanni oppressed and unsafe.

Giovanni’s storyline mirrors what many children who are LGBTQ experience. It is a domino effect that places LGBTQ people at a disadvantage starting from birth. Society is set up for us to either go one way or the other, that being the life of a boy versus that of a girl. Even in utero, parents are planning gender reveal parties and buying toys and gifts based on the sex of the baby. Once the baby is born, they are treated and reared up in a way that bolsters their “masculinity” or “femininity.” When a child starts to express something that isn’t of that heteronormative paradigm, trouble begins. Families turn their backs on kids who are LGBTQ, or attempt to change their children to fit into categories they aren’t meant to be. Society is structured by a binary, with anything on the subordinate side deemed unacceptable, even as those who identify outside of those binaries continues to grow.

There is a reason that almost forty percent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ. That LGBTQ students are more likely to experience harassment and violence while they are in school. Society has created no protections for these students, and their families are unwilling to practice the theory of unconditional love. These issues pipeline LGBTQ children into a dangerous spiral of oppression that many are unable to survive, and, if they do, are living at a much lower quality of life than their hetero counterparts. Homelessness leads students who drop out, forced to take lower paying jobs or go into sex work, a profession that many engage in within our community. HIV rates run at a much higher level for those of us within the community, as the multitude of oppressions placed against us leave us more susceptible to environments with a higher rate of infection.

I am Giovanni. We all are Giovanni. Thinking of my own growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a family that knew what they were dealing with. My family had a history of gay and trans people so it was easily recognizable from the age of two what they were dealing with. Rather than make my sexuality and gender an issue, they let me be me and nurtured the person I was. It was society, however, that shaped and molded me into a suppression of my identity, as many of us are forced to do. The constant bullying and isolation creates an environment for many where suicide becomes a better option than just taking the abuse another day. I survived it, thankfully, and took all the blows that came along with it. However, there are many that don’t, and many more who end up in situations identical to that of young Giovanni’s. We as a society cannot grow if we are unable to accept the ever-changing narrative that is identity, and begin creating environments for those people to not just survive, but thrive within.

The time has come for a radical change in the way we approach education, and the way that society deems who children are from birth. The gendering of children before we are able to see what is innate to them is detrimental to their growth and development of who they truly are supposed to be. This lack of nurturing forces many to not have childhoods or teenage years until well after they are adults and allowed the space to live in their true identity. K-12 needs an updating as well on curriculum around sex and gender, not because we need to be included but because we are already in the room. It’s one thing to introduce new learning because people are unaware of the existence, but another when those people have always existed in the same space with no education about the fact that this person could be sitting right next to you. This education needs to include sex education that isn’t only rooted in heteronormativity; as the intersection of Queerness into race creates additional oppressions and marginalizations, like higher STI rates, and an HIV rate that continues to hurt our community more than others.

I am saddened at the murder of Giovanni, a kid who was just trying to live the identity he knew to be true to him. It is our duty as a society to stop the violence we place upon those of a different identity, and begin learning about the people who exist in the rooms with us. Rest in power, Giovanni, we will continue to fight to ensure that your story isn’t silenced in effort to protect the thousands of children who deserve to live.

George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist. He has written for Entertainment Tonight, Ebony, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News, and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @iamgmjohnson.