October 17th is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) Spirit Day. GLAAD formed in response to the media’s and society’s reaction to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 1985 a group of men and women decided to control the LGTBQ+’s (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual, Queer, non-binary) narrative. They came together intending to create conversation focused on the issues their community faces. Using the media and the entertainment industry to its advantage, the organization is a driving force behind cultural change.
GLAAD introduced Spirit Day to increase awareness of bullying. Teenagers who identify as either lesbian/gay/transgender/bisexual/queer/non-binary can face threats, violence, and harassment daily. According to Mental Health America, “LGBT youth are nearly twice as likely to be called names, verbally harassed or physically assaulted at school than their non-LGBT peers. Their mental health and education, not to mention their physical well-being, are at-risk.“
The necessity for a day concentrating on ending bullying LGTBQ+ youth is recognized globally. There are several reasons why we should become active in the fight against bullying. LGTBQ+ individuals encounter prejudice and violence because their sexual orientation doesn’t align with others’ moral views. Bullying teen LGTBQ+ teens and damaging their mental and physical health must end.
Teens who identify as LGTBQ+ report they have experienced verbal, physical, or emotional assault. The experiences left the teens feeling isolated, depressed, unloved, and unsupported. Fear of future bullying or assault is prevalent amongst LGTBQ+ teens.
A positive note is that not all teens who identify as LGTBQ+ report struggling with their peers or family; some felt loved and supported when they told those close to them about their sexual or gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation conducted a study to examine how LGTBQ+ teens internalized their feelings regarding every day struggles at home, school, and the community. The results are:
- Seventy-seven percent of LGTBQ+ teenagers surveyed report feeling depressed or down over the past week;
- Ninety-five percent of LGTBQ+ youth report trouble sleeping at night;
- LGTBQ+ youth of color and transgender teenagers experience unique challenges and elevated stress — only eleven percent of youth of color surveyed believe their racial or ethnic group is regarded positively
- in the U.S., and over fifty percent of trans and gender-expansive youth said they could never use school restrooms that align with their gender identity;
- More than seventy percent report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;
- Only twenty-six percent say they always feel safe in their school classrooms — and just five percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGTBQ+ people;
- Sixty-seven percent report that they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGTBQ+ people.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s study reveals anxiety, stress, and exclusion the teens feel. When asked, the teens stated that “family support and inclusive schools” would help their mental health. Teens who do not have family support or inclusive schools are a higher risk for suicide, substance abuse, and self-harm.
A paper published by the American Journal of Public Health conducted a study with 246 LQTBQ+ youths. The researchers concluded that one-third of the study’s youths were affected emotionally by a lack of support from their friends, family, or peers at school. Additional findings include the mental health disorders the youths are diagnosed with:
- Conduct disorder
- Major depression
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Suicide attempts
Schools that are not inclusive of LGTBQ+ teens create a hostile learning environment. Teens in these environments are at a higher risk for low grades, skipping school, and intense bullying. The results of an adverse learning environment based on a 2017 National School Climate Survey found:
- Almost 8 in 10 students in our survey reported feeling unsafe at school because of at least one personal characteristic, with sexual orientation and gender expression being the most commonly reported characteristics.
- Students also frequently reported avoiding spaces in their schools that they perceived as unsafe, mostly bathrooms, locker rooms, and P.E. classes.
- Transgender and gender-nonconforming students were particularly likely to have felt unsafe at school and face anti-LQTBQ+ victimization.
- The majority of LQTBQ+ students also faced discriminatory school practices and policies.
- LQTBQ+ students who experienced frequent harassment and assault based on their sexual orientation or gender expression reported missing more days of school, having lower GPAs, lower educational aspirations, and higher school discipline rates than students who were harassed less often.
What Can We Do?
Family and friends of LGTBQ+ teens can help support their loved ones in a variety of ways. The 2017 National School Climate suggests schools can start with educators’ “supportive educators positively influencing students’ academic performance, educational aspirations, and safety feelings. “
We can also start by:
- Enacting comprehensive anti-bullying policies
- Be alert to signs of decreased mental health.
- Encourage bullied teens into letting a person in authority know.
- Have a speaker come into a school, church, or other community organization and speak about the dangers LGTBQ+ teens face
- Start a group that supports LGTBQ+ teens.
- Talk with your kids about LGTBQ+ issues.
LGTBQ+ teens, like most teens, face many obstacles in their path. Navigating friends’ common issues, acceptance, clothes, hair, and other matters creates stress and anxiety. The addition of being harassed and bullied because of sexual preference can add to teens’ stress and anxiety. Learning about the issues LGTBQ+ teens face is a start to help end bullying. Joining others in GLAAD’s Spirit Day can increase awareness and create a positive conversation.
LGTBQ+ teens are at risk. Many negative actions jeopardize the mental and physical well-being of LGTBQ+ teens. Being lesbian/gay/transgender/bisexual/queer/non-binary shouldn’t cause harassment, bullying, or violent acts. A conversation focused on acceptance is essential for those teens at risk for mental health challenges. We can start in our homes, schools, and community by opening a constructive dialogue discussing LGTBQ+ teens’ issues daily. We can also seek individual or group therapy, which is a great way to include the family in helping an LGTBQ+ teen express their feelings in a safe space. Achieve Concierge welcomes the opportunity to discuss any questions you might have regarding the health and welfare of LGTBQ+ teens. We also offer in-home therapy if your teen prefers complete privacy. Call us at (619) 393-5871 for more information.