Oregon's Kate Brown is the nation's first (and only) openly LGBTQ person to be elected governor.

After being involuntarily outed by the local newspaper in a story about LGBTQ legislators in the early 1990s, Brown came out as bisexual to her family (who told her it would be easier if she were a lesbian); her gay and straight friends (who called her "half-queer" and "indecisive" respectfully); and her colleagues in the state legislature (one of whom took the news as an opportunity to hit on her).

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.


The responses Brown received after coming out are disappointing but sadly unsurprising considering that bisexuality is often a source of jokes, confusion, needless ridicule, and — worst — complete erasure.

Bisexuality deserves a place in the conversation when it comes to the greater needs, challenges, and resources of the LGBTQ community. Bisexual+ Awareness Week — the plus includes people who identify as queer, pansexual, fluid, or without labels at all — aims to do just that with articles, events, hashtags (#biweek), and conversations that celebrate and center bisexual+ people.

Brown joined Texas Rep. Mary Gonzalez and Wisconsin Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa for a conversation on Twitter about legislating while bisexual+.

Hosted by GLAAD and the Victory Institute, the hourlong event featured questions on topics ranging from role models to policy. It's clear these three leaders work hard for their state and districts while pushing back against bisexual erasure and discrimination.

Here are seven of their many thoughtful responses and advice for bisexual people (or frankly anyone in an underrepresented group) thinking about running for office:

1. When it comes to building community, it starts with representation.

Recent studies show that people who identify as bisexual may make up as much as half the LGBTQ community, but less than 30% are out to those closest to them. To dismantle stereotypes and to help others feel safe enough to live openly, increased visibility of those who are out is vital.

2. Having the support of the LGBTQ community and allies remains important, particularly with President Donald Trump's threatening policy decisions.

Bisexual people can be black, white, disabled, cis, trans, or nonbinary too. Recognizing and honoring that intersectionality is vital.

3. More bisexual people should consider running for public office.

"No more 'bi-erasure.' We are here. We are proud," Zamarripa tweeted with an additional message:

"It is important for bi people to run for office, so we can advocate for policies that will help bisexual people survive and thrive. We also need to run for office so we are visible. No more bi-erasure. We are here. We exist. We are proud. And, in doing so, we lift up other bisexual folks, especially youth, so they know they can not only survive but thrive."

If the rights and liberties of the LGBTQ community are at risk, then LGBTQ people and our allies must be in the conversation to speak up and preserve them.

4. While making the decision to be a leader — political or otherwise — can be scary, there are plenty of organizations and political leaders available to help get you started.

Consider reaching out to the Victory Institute, Emily's List, or She Should Run for resources in your community.

5. Need a little encouragement? Gonzalez recommended some books to get folks started.

Gonzalez looks to queer women of color for inspiration. Here are five more to keep your nightstand crowded.

6. Gonzalez also had a few words of inspiration.

7. But get out there and leave your mark. Because the world needs your voice now more than ever.

You never know who's admiring your work or looking up to you. In a series of tweets after the chat, Brown wrote (emphasis added):

"After I got sworn in as the nation's first openly LGBTQ governor, I got a letter from a young bisexual person. They felt like my coming out gave them a reason to live, like they weren't alone. That stuck with me. If I can be a role model for one young person, and make a difference in their life, it's all worth it."

Brown, then an Oregon senator, hugs former state Rep. George Eighmey after Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed two bills protecting gay rights into law. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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