If you’re even moderately interested in LGBT rights, you’ve heard the statistics about how tough it is for teens. We all know it’s difficult enough being a straight, white teenager. Add any kind of oddity to that mix and things get exponentially worse. High school is not a friendly environment for a gangly, awkward 15-year-old nerd whose limbs grow faster than his coordination and a brain that draws him to things besides sports and girls. Add to that an attraction (or perceived attraction) to other boys and you have the makings of a nightmare. Some of you don’t have to imagine that scenario. You’ve lived it.
Bullying is a long-standing rite of passage in North America and beyond. You graduate from elementary school to junior high and spend four to six years struggling to survive. For some it starts earlier than that. You reach the other side emotionally damaged and try to get on with your life. Most of us have been there. The problem is the bullying of today’s LGBT kids doesn’t stop at school.
It’s on their phones in the form of text messages. It’s on e-mail, websites, chat rooms, Facebook, and all over Twitter. They could cut themselves off from the internet and get rid of their phones but that doesn’t stop the taunts or the rumors and pictures from circulating amongst their classmates. Even without the personal aspect, the struggle for marriage (and overall) equality keeps the topic in the news and draws the haters out of the woodwork like roaches to a Twinkie fest. The barrage of “you’re evil and disgusting” doesn’t stop with their peers. It comes from strangers on the news, hateful signs during Pride Parades and comments by unsuspecting neighbors. Depending on the household, it’s also preached from the pulpit and enforced at home. The result of this constant negativity isn’t much of a surprise.
- 9 out of 10 LGBT students are harassed or assaulted at
- One third of LGBT teens have attempted suicide despite
coming from accepting households. That’s more than four times that of their
- Teens from anti-LGBT families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than their family supported LGBT peers.
What that means is kids like AJ Betts and Carlos Vigil are representative of hundreds of LGBT kids who commit suicide but never make it into the news. They die believing they are worthless and alone. Many of them have family and friends who care but it’s difficult for those positive voices to get past the daily barrage of negativity and hate.
I wish I had an easy answer for kids like these but making schools safe is a battle that must be fought one school district at a time and it won’t happen fast enough to save the next life. That leaves national organizations like The Trevor Project and local ones dotted across the country to pick up the slack with online and telephone counseling. It also leaves us as adult survivors of bullying with a responsibility that goes far beyond words of hope. We need to demand action instead of lip service from the schools. If we can’t stop the hate, we can at least work with faculty and students to create LGBT friendly student groups where kids can go and spend an hour or two a week remembering they’re not alone.
I’m a big fan and supporter of the It Gets Better program but the message doesn’t mean much to a 14-year-old kid facing four more years of abuse and assault by her peers because she’s different. Four years is an eternity, especially to a kid already on the edge. We need to get angry enough about the abuse of our younger brothers and sisters to take positive action. No one should have to suffer the way decades of LGBT people have already suffered. The physical and emotional battle scars of youth need to stop. Yes, it gets better…when we make it better.
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