A new book elevates the artistic voices of LGBTQ youth. Writing Out of the Closet: LGBTQ Voices from High School (DIO Press, 2021) is an international collection of poetry, art, and stories created by high school students.
Co-edited by Kyle O’Daniel and Dr. Erin Mikulec, the work provides a means of expression and a validation of the value of LGBTQ voices. “Their works encompass a broad range of experience with gender, sexuality, politics, mental health, and more—all told under the lens of being both young and LGBTQ,” said O’Daniel.
A teacher of English literature at Mahomet-Seymour High School in Mahomet, Illinois, O’Daniel also advises the school’s literary magazine and the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). “I noticed that a lot of our LGBTQ students were not submitting work, even though so many of them are just incredibly creative, both in visual arts and in writing,” he said. He noted a body of research speaks to why young LGBTQ writers would be hesitant to submit works they create. “That includes not being out to everyone as well as fearing bullying by students or censorship by the schools.”
O’Daniel, who is pursuing his master’s degree in education at Illinois State University, connected with Professor of Teaching and Learning Erin Mikulec through a research project. “There are avenues for LGBTQ authors, but not a lot for young LGBTQ writers and creatives,” said Mikulec, who agreed with O’Daniel that a platform was needed. Mikulec reached out to her connections in publishing and secured the attention of DIO Press, which works to demonstrate the power of writing as a tool of self-expression and advocacy.
O’Daniel and Mikulec sought submissions from across the nation. “I think I spent a week just searching high school GSA groups on Facebook,” said O’Daniel. “We wanted a diversity of voices and thought.”
Twenty young people’s work was chosen from submissions that came across the U.S. and Canada. “We were committed to honest writing. It didn’t necessarily have to an LGBTQ experience, but most of the pieces live in that,” said Mikulec. “We saw uplifting pieces. We saw sad pieces. We saw pieces with hope and pain. What is on the page is raw and honest. And I am glad there is a venue for it.”
O’Daniel speaks in the book’s introduction about his own youthful search for LGBTQ authors and characters. “It’s important for LGBTQ youth to see themselves reflected on the page, all of their experiences,” he said. “Often, LGBTQ literature is about trauma, and there are certainly pieces in our book that are about trauma, but there are also pieces about joy and everyday life.”
The cover art, taboo, was created by 15-year-old Corinne Francis. “The art throughout the work speaks so clearly and beautifully to what these young people experience,” said Mikulec. She added she hopes to see the book in school libraries and incorporated into high school and college curricula. “This is a wonderful resource for pre-service teachers to hear the voices of students before they enter the classroom,” she said.
O’Daniel added he hopes the book inspires LGBTQ young creatives. “This book shows they can be authors. They can be artists,” he said.