(Photo source: Courtney Primus, starryai)
As someone who has been following the news since I was old enough to rifle through a newspaper, I've always believed in the illuminating power of storytelling, and I've always been aware of whichever natural disaster or human rights violation might be going on in any corner of the globe. Why? Because understanding climate change is not really about ozone depletion or melting ice caps. Understanding international relations isn't really about the trading of goods or exchanging of services. It's about people. Without understanding people, how can one demonstrate compassion? And what is understanding if not the highest form of love?
Love has been in the news a lot lately. I'll be honest, seeing the news from the United States of America (USA) right now feels like being drowned by a tidal wave—a foreboding, rapid, immense wave of bans and restrictions on how people live and love. It is large enough to block out the sun, leaving me feeling cold to my core. With book bans, tighter government control around abortion, and restrictions on sex education, today's USA reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale, with my Instagram feed a constant barrage of bad news. Viewed through the lens of modern technology, it feels like students can do nothing but shout into the void of social media to combat social injustice. It's easy to feel hopeless when doom-scrolling through my feed.
In the last few months, one of my favorite books has been banned in several states in the USA. It's called Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. After picking it up by chance at the age of 12, I devoured it within a week and have subsequently reread it probably more than 17 times. I'll spare you the details, but when I first discovered this novel, I was completely closeted and felt very isolated. I don't think I knew anyone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community at all. I was at that age when it's very difficult to comprehend that things won't stay the same forever. But Simon gave me hope. It's a heartwarming story about a gay teenager, complex and modern enough to be relatable, while still being uplifting enough to be life-affirming. It was like a beacon, and at that time, I clung to it. Five years on, I still leaf through its pages after a bad day, and it never fails to cheer me up. Hearing that it has been banned shook me. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that this book saved me. Picturing any 12-year-old feeling the same way I did, with no access to any content that validates, let alone acknowledges, how they feel and who they are, makes me feel crushed. You always expect the world to keep moving forward toward change, toward progress, toward improvements in people's lives. So when it feels like it's going backward, what can you do? How do you find the sun beyond that tidal wave?
I once read a quote that went something along these lines, "If you want to save the world, it's okay if you only save one person. And it's okay if that person is yourself." I think that's true. Sometimes the only way to feel the sun on your skin is to seek it out; you can't always hope that the clouds will clear on their own. When I was 14, I took what, for me, was a massive leap into the unknown and joined my school's Pride club. Little did I know that just a month later, the whole world would be plunged into lockdowns, with my hometown of Melbourne, Australia enduring some of the longest. The students I met in those club meetings, on Zoom every Monday lunchtime, became my closest support network during that tumultuous time, and some of my loveliest friends as well. So if you ask what Pride month means to me, part of the answer is undeniably about courage. It's about allowing yourself to imagine all the wonderful things that could happen, rather than all the difficult things. But I also recognize that it is a privilege to be able to have such courage in the first place. Because Pride means more when structures exist to uphold and support our community, structures like my school's Pride club (which is something I think every school should have). While it's not difficult to find online spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, bridging the gap between seeking support within your phone and being offered support at school is so vital in eliminating a sense of physical isolation. Actions like wearing a rainbow badge, displaying informative posters around school, and including LGBTQ+ specific information in health classes can have such a positive impact, and perhaps a bigger one than you might think. Schools may not be able to save the world, but they can help their students save themselves. Schools can't banish that tidal wave, but it is possible for them to help their students feel the sun.
These things matter because it's not easy to feel proud of yourself if those around you don't also celebrate and uplift you. And I think that is the essence of what Pride is about, togetherness. Because the world can be a cold place sometimes, because we feel alone sometimes, and because we can't take the sun's warmth for granted. Pride is about coming together in solidarity, in protest, but also in joy. A smile is also radiant, like the sun. After all, our happiness holds power against those who oppose us.
Some people say that love is not a choice, that it's something that just happens to a person. But I don't see it like that. Every day we make the choice to love, as students and as teachers, to love those around us, and to love ourselves. That love is both defiant and celebratory. And that's what pride is really about.
Lotus Das-Hyland (she/her) is an Indian-Irish International Baccalaureate student from Melbourne, Australia. She enjoys visiting new places, making music, and writing stories in her Notes app.