Sophomore Emma Troughton is known for many things around University. She’s the soccer goalie with a knack for concussions, the excited Chemistry student without an off-button, and the singer whose voice seems to burst at regular intervals. And in her opinion, those images should not be altered just because she recently came out as a lesbian.
The community seems to agree. Emma says that coming out was relatively painless. No one figured she was a different person. No one questioned the Emma they already knew and respected. “People think it’s this big ceremonious thing, but it doesn’t have to be like that.” Unfortunately, not every LGBT teenager has this experience. According to Violence Prevention Works, “As many as 93% of teenagers hear derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while.” As stated by Mental Health America, “Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subject to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education.”
Having come out recently, Emma sees this issue in a new light. “I’m entering the world of minorities, and it’s eye-opening, understanding what it’s like. While I go to an accepting high school, many students are not able to be confident about who they are.” To the non-supporters: “A person does not wake up and say, ‘I’m going to be a lesbian today so that I can accept a future of discrimination and hate. I’m going to come out as gay so I can establish a negative societal perception and not have the ability to get married.’’’ Emma urges people to evaluate the discussion at hand. In her mind, “This is not a religious or political issue. This is about human beings who have far fewer rights.”
Emma decided to do something about that. She started a Facebook page called One Million Teens for LGBT Rights. “I started the page as an effort. I always wanted to do something for the cause. I wanted to see where this would go.” In a couple of weeks, the group has gained hundreds of ‘likes’ from all over the country. The group’s followers are supplied with a constant stream of LGBT-related links. Wonder what Ellen DeGeneres has to say to the Supreme Court? Looking for iO Tillett Wright’s latest project? According to One Million Teens, you’re not alone.
Advocacy runs in Emma’s family. Her mom, Shannon Watts, started Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shortly after the Newtown shooting. The Facebook page sprang to life. It was that dedication and success that drove Emma to start this group. “My mom is so passionate, and her hard work really inspired me.” But Emma is also passionate. ”I feel strongly about social rights for all humans. I have always stood up for people when bullies put them down. Don’t hurt others to make yourself feel better.” Emma worries that this happens a lot to the LGBT community.
If Emma is passionate about one thing, it’s equal treatment for all people. And the only way to accomplish that goal is through activism. Some people argue that ‘liking’ a page on Facebook does very little for a cause. According to Emma, “clicking the ‘like’ button on Facebook isn’t necessarily the goal – but it’s a step.” Why? “It shows other people that you care about something. It represents something much larger. It also causes you to think about why you cared enough to ‘like’ the page.” Emma says that that click of a button is important because it gets other people to think about something that may not be a social norm. She says that in this case, that norm is homophobia. “People are so oblivious to this kind of discrimination. Small things represent things that are deeply rooted.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the name One Million Teens for LGBT Rights is the word “Teens.” Emma says that word is an important part of the group’s purpose. “We’re the ones who have to make the change. We, the teenagers right now of 2013, have to act.” She says it’s important that the page is managed by three sixteen-year-olds. The managers have a relationship with technology, and so do the followers. “You can motivate teens to act if it involves something they enjoy. When it comes to young people, technology can be manipulated to cause a positive change in society.”
According to Emma, the UHS community fostered her passion for service. She believes that we are different because of our focus on doing something worthy with our academic abilities. “Some people are great at math, for instance. But a person’s most valuable characteristic is the ability to help others. Do something good with your awesome math skills.” That’s what makes University students different. “We have the drive to act – that’s what we do here.” Emma considers herself lucky to go to go to this school. “In a way, UHS is its own little world of activism. We’re making efforts to be what is ideal for society. At [nameless nearby public schools], there isn’t an atmosphere of people saying your passions are important and pushing you to believe in what you believe in.” Emma says we’re all seeds to be expanded upon, and that’s celebrated at UHS. Moreover, students here have the resources to make positive change.
The question is: will change come of this Facebook group? Emma certainly hopes so. “Just think about how much changed in the past decade. It’s fair to say there has been a great deal of progress. Generally, each generation is more accepting. So in the next ten years, with the evolution of more globalized technology and immediate gratification, change is on the horizon.” Watch out, world. This Millennial Generation has something to say – and a powerful mode to help spread the word.
Once upon a time, Emma wore blue hair extensions to be noticed. Not any more. At University, Emma’s the girl who seems to habitually live in the Fairbanks hallway, at the same spot every day. She’s the contortionist who makes you wonder if someone’s shoulders should twist at that angle, and the English student who always finds a deeper meaning. Most importantly, Emma is an avid LGBT rights activist. To support her, the Facebook group, and the cause, go to this page and click that ‘like’ button: https://www.facebook.com/OneMillionTeensForGayRights.