Thursday, February 10, 2022

Local Story Inspires Blogger


An old timey news story might have begun, “Local Boy Makes Good.” But this particular local boy is 1. an adult and 2. was already making something of himself long before he left Howard County. I’m referring to former Student Member of the Board Zach Koung, now a student at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Koung is featured in an article by Alia Wong in USA Today:

Books are being banned from school libraries. Here's what that does to students.

How did I learn about this? That’s easy: on Twitter, along with this helpful link:

Book Bans and the Students Speaking Out, It Gets Better Project

The It Gets Better Project executive director Brian Wenke and Youth Voices ambassador Zach Koung talked to USA Today’s Alia Wong about book bans in school libraries and what it means for LGBTQ+ students. 

Youth Voices is the official youth ambassador program for the It Gets Better Project:

…an annual cohort of exceptional young people ages 13-18 who team up with our organization to offer their unique stories and words of advice to other LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. They are students, artists, and activists who are working to change their communities for the better and who have a passion for empowering their community of LGBTQ+ peers with their insights and observations.

The article in USA Today leads off with Koung’s reflection on growing up gay but seeing nothing in his school’s books or curriculum that reflected his existence.

Growing up in the Baltimore area, Zach Koung didn’t have many opportunities to learn about the gay-rights movement, or to read books featuring queer characters and love stories. Such topics and learning materials weren’t a part of his schools’ curricula. Koung became depressed as a teen – and, in retrospect, he’s sure that lack of exposure had something to do with it. 

“It was so emotionally draining to know who I was inside yet not see that reflected in the books we read,” said Koung, 18, now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. Education is supposed to be about “teaching the facts, teaching science, teaching what’s right, and it made me think something was wrong with me.” 

It’s deeply concerning to me that, at a time when schools and communities have been making significant progress to address these concerns, there has come such an organized backlash to materials that make conservative groups uncomfortable. We see this desire to censor and suppress not only on a national level, but right here in Howard County. That notorious “We the People2” rally comes to mind.

It’s amazing to observe the lengths people will go to in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable.

It’s sad that there appears to be no empathy for the students who need diverse, inclusive, and supportive materials easily available in school libraries. In truth, those books and learning materials are needed by all students. They need to be there when any student comes looking. That’s what libraries are all about. But for LGBTQ+ students such materials, along with a welcoming school environment, can be a matter of life and death. 

Imagine going to school, K-12, in an environment that doesn’t even acknowledge your existence. Now that is uncomfortable. 

More from the USA Today article:

“There was a lot of unlearning that I had to do as a result of that,” said Koung, who serves as a youth leader with the It Gets Better Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. Part of that unlearning involved a successful run for his local school board. In that role, he pushed for his district’s adoption of an LGTBQ+ studies course, whose development he’s now helping to steer. 

Koung is hopeful: That initiative is part of a national trend, driven partly by youth activists, to make curriculum more inclusive. But he’s also deeply concerned about threats to that progress – including a simultaneous trend that’s picked up steam in recent months.

The USA Today article is behind a paywall, but the summary at It Gets Better is not. I’m going to see if I can access USA Today through the Howard County Library website. Look for Part 2 of this post on Saturday. 

There’s more news, some good news, and ways that you can help. 

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