by Ashley Braun, Public Policy Intern
“. . . [M]y suicide attempt had a lot to do with the fact that I felt hopeless and alone . . . ” ”
[I was] harassed in public during high school, rocks thrown at me in the parking lot of high school, harassed in restaurants . . .”
The haunting words of these two respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey echo the feelings of countless youths across the U.S., but more specifically they address the constant and persistent victimization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students throughout this country. As one respondent stated:
“. . . [N]othing about my gender identity is a conscious choice. . . . this is the way I came out.”
Many of us have seen the numerous LGBT suicide stories in the news recently — the most high-profile being the tragic death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi. A college freshman, Clementi completed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded his sexual encounter with another male and streamed it live on the Internet. These news stories highlight but a few of the many LGBT youths who have died by suicide as a result of anti-gay harassment, bullying and homophobia.
According to a 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) survey, a pioneering national study investigating social conditions for LGBT youths, 86.2 percent of LGBT middle and high school students experience verbal harassment; 40.1 percent experience physical harassment; and 18.8 percent, nearly one out of five, reported being physically assaulted in the past year.
Even more alarming are research findings in the Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology journal. Those show that gay, lesbian and bisexual youths, as a result of pervasive homophobia, are four times more likely to attempt suicide then their socially-accepted heterosexual peers, with one out of every three LGB youths and one out of every four transgender youths actually attempting suicide during this period in their life. Our society tells us that youth is supposed to be a time of adventure, education and identity formation, but for LGBT children it is all too often a time of hate and agony, and many feel lucky simply to have made it out alive.
Where does this hatred come from? Clearly children are not born into this world with homophobia and abhorrence in their hearts. Plainly put, this is a process of socialization; we as a society are teaching our children to hate. We see it in the second-class status of LGBT individuals in our society, unable to legally marry their same-sex partners. We see it in the 28 states that still allow employers to legally fire someone for being gay. We see it in the numerous discharges under the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And we see it in the inaction of countless individuals to stand up against this sanctioned inequality. Hate speech under the guise of “bullying” is not separate or unrelated, but interconnected to and a direct reflection of the shortcomings of our social and political humanity; our children are casualties.
On Nov. 2, the people of this country have a unique opportunity to cast our ballot and thus our conscience. We are given a voice through our right to vote, and with that right we either speak out against intolerance and hate, or we continue to sanction injustice. Through such sanctions, we teach future generations that hate is not just tolerated but socially accepted.
Listen closely to what candidates for elective office are saying, and look at their records: Do they spout hateful ideas; do they oppose equal marriage? Or do they support legislation that opposes hate speech and discrimination against LGBT persons? Do they support repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Do they support repeal of the federal anti-equal marriage law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?
This Election Day, let’s vote against institutionalized inequality. Hate in all its forms is a disgrace to humanity. Through our own actions, we can make this country a safer place for the children of today and the generations of tomorrow.
Thanks to the National Center for Transgender Equality for the quotes.