The statistics on GLBT youth harassment could not be more stark or sobering:
- 9 out of 10 LGBT kids get harassed at school.
- LGBT kids are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts.
- A third — A THIRD – of all LGBT kids have attempted suicide.
The suicides of these five young men make me sad beyond words. How can we live in a world where this keeps happening? Thankfully there is a lot of justifiable public outcry right now about bullying. The unfettered harassment of GLBT youth must be addressed in schools across the country. Curriculum must be created, bills must be passed. But this isn’t just a classroom issue. GLBT bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sure, kids have always picked on other kids they think are “different.” Yet we live in a country that still allows for the wholesale discrimination against GLBT people.
Gays and lesbians are not allowed to legally marry. Gays and lesbians are not allowed to openly serve in the military. Gays and lesbians are not protected from being fired for their sexual orientation across all 50 states. None of these rights and protections exist on a federal level.
So, then, why are we so surprised when teens pick on gay kids? When a government says it is OK to discriminate against gay people, kids think it's OK to hate them. All politics are personal, and nothing is more personal than being treated like a second-class citizen.
So this, this is why Prop. 8, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, etc. all matter so much. While on the surface they may seem like they’re about a single issue — marriage, military service, employment — they’re a gauge of what we as a people believe is important to protect. They’re the legal harbingers of our overall acceptance and, ultimately, full equality.
And they’re also why it is so very important to vote come November. Will the repeal of DADT or Prop. 8 end GLBT bullying overnight? No, of course not. Are they are an important step to creating a culture of tolerance? You'd better fucking believe it.
Whatever disappointments we might have in this administration, in this congress (and, believe me, there are many), think long and hard about the alternative. We’re up against an extreme opposition that hates us. I am so fucking disappointed that President Obama hasn't been more proactive on DADT and Prop. 8 and all the rest. But if you think not voting is a way of showing him, then I hope you enjoy that bullet hole in your own foot. Change comes slowly and painfully and is never perfect. But sitting idly by will ensure it never happens. It won’t make life better for you and me, and it won’t make life easier for the gay teen getting picked on every day at school.
When something like this makes the headlines, we often feel helpless. How can we reach out to these kids? How can we tell them they aren’t alone? How can we encourage them to hold on? Things like the It Gets Better Project are wonderful. Things like The Trevor Project are essential. But we can, and we must, help in other ways, too. That means calling out homophobia when we see it, whether by the teen on the street or the pop starlet on the stage who uses “so gay” as a put down. That means electing people who, at the very least, don’t think we’re an abomination. That means continuing to push our leaders to give us the same basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. That means reaching out if you see an LGBT kid struggling.
They say sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But that simply isn’t true. Words can do as much damage as a fist and, as we’ve sadly seen these last few weeks, sometimes even more. While the bullies of the world, be they in the school hallways or the political pulpit, will continue using words as weapons, we can use them as a shield.
If you need help, feel alone, want someone to talk to, call The Trevor Lifeline toll-free any time of day or night: 866-488-7386.
Believe me when I say this, things do get better. Kids can be cruel, but you are not alone. We are with you. We are doing everything we can to make sure it gets better. We want you to be alongside us when it does.