I’ve gotten a few negative comments about having written LGBT characters into my books. If I’m honest I guess I wasn’t surprised.

Without spoiling too much, the main character, Kayleigh, has a diverse group of friends, including a gay male and a trans female. She also has a Jewish friend and a Chinese friend, and she herself is half Hispanic. The book I’m currently writing has a Muslim girl.

Why do I write a diverse cast of characters?

I write a colorful group of friends because I grew up and live in the planned community and culturally diverse area of Columbia, Maryland. I enjoy speaking to people of different races and cultures on a daily basis. Sometimes I forget that not everyone can hang out with their neighbors and have seven languages represented. On my cul de sac alone we can speak Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, English, Hindi, and Farsi.

I also see LGBT+ individuals on a daily basis, and I am happy to live harmoniously with them. There is a gorgeous African-American trans woman who works in the Columbia Mall, an elderly trans man who shops in the Target (I LOVE Target), several trans males who work the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City, and too many gay and lesbians to list. To me, they are as typical a part of life as any Cisgender heterosexual.

Our small rainbow melting pot.

I don’t know the story of all my diverse neighbors, and I’m sure many of them have experienced discrimination. I hope that my neighbors from other countries, my friends of all races and religions, my husband from Venezuela, and all the LGBT community feel welcome and safe. Sadly I know that might not be true.

Let’s make a promise.

There are several websites that are offering diversity challenges, such as this one on Platypire. The idea is you sign up and list the books with diverse characters that you read. Or find #DiverseReads2016 here.

I promise that I will continue to write diverse characters, and I challenge all of you to read more books with diverse characters!

I have been known to randomly break into song. This week, I feel compelled to sing our national anthem, especially the lines “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!” Not because I’m feeling particularly patriotic, but because I know that Bruce Jenner won’t be arrested for revealing himself to be transgender.

Bruce Jenner is incredibly brave, choosing to be his true self…a woman. He may not have made the pronoun switch yet or picked a new name, but he is on the path to finally realizing his dream of over 30 years. In the 80’s he started taking female hormones, but stopped because he didn’t want to disappoint people.

I wonder how many teens don’t reveal their true selves for fear of disappointing their parents?

Parents have dreams for their children, but when our children have different dreams for themselves, we must listen.

One particularly moving story involves a little girl named Mia, who insisted she was a girl. Her parents, Mimi and Joe, allowed her to transition to a boy, and now Jacob is happy to be living life as a boy.

Seeing this news story, my husband asked me, “Do you think there are more transgender teens now?”

I replied that the number of transgender teens is not on the rise, but the numbers that choose to transition most certainly is. When Bruce Jenner was a child he used to dress in his sister’s clothes, but he did not feel able to become a woman. He started transitioning as an adult and even then stopped because of how others felt.

In earlier generations, there were more-than-likely the same amount of gay, lesbian, and transgender teenager, but it was far more difficult “to come out of the closet” during adolescence, or at any age. More teens nowadays are given the freedom to express themselves and their sexual or gender preference.

Even straight teenagers are more aware and educated on the topic of sexual preferences. Here in liberal Howard County, Maryland, many of my “straight” teenaged clients will say they have at least one friend who is homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered. This area has changed so much from when I graduated high school in 1992, when I thought being gay was related to which ear the boy pierced, and there was one girl who wore a tuxedo to prom.

My husband still shook his head and said that life must be more difficult for transgender teens. Of course, I replied. There are many who commit suicide because their parents won’t accept them.

Childhood and Adolescence should be a time of exploration, of favorite activities, subjects in school, and self-expression. Our daughter loves to dress in layers of mismatched clothes and messy buns. Inwardly, I sigh and wish she’d let me do her hair, but I respect her and her need for self-expression.

Adolescence is a time of great physical and emotional change, and sexual self-discovery. Socially, middle and high school is a difficult time, as most teens worry about what is cool, popular, or accepted. Adding in additional variables of race, culture, sexuality or gender can make being accepted even more challenging.

As a Clinical Psychologist, I work with teens to help them discover their identities and safely express themselves, in whatever form makes them happy. As a parent, I will do the same for my daughter, but I have a natural fear that my daughter may face discrimination and hate if she chooses something, not the “norm.”

I love to sing about the “land of the free and home of the brave,” and I hope for a world where people can choose to be themselves, whatever that may be.

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