My day started out with a workshop with The Trevor Project for youth under the age of 24. The Trevor Project is the only organization dedicated to GLBTQ youth suicide; they provide outreach, a 24 hour hotline, an online chat forum (for non-crisis situations), and an AskTrevor letter column.
The workshop created dialogue between young people about suicide among their peers. Kids as young as 14 shared personal stories about their attempted suicide. A group of students from the same school shared that a classmate and friend had killed himself just a few weeks ago.
To begin the dialogue, we did an activity where individuals stood up if they identified with or could relate to a statement that was read, such as “I have been discriminated against because of my age, race, ability, sexual orientation, or gender expression.” To start, sadly, everything went as expected. Most kids had felt unsafe in schools, discriminated against, and have had to lie about their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, when the facilitator read the statement: “I have used alcohol or other drugs to cope with my issues,” all but three students were standing. Let me remind you that everyone in the room was under the age of 24. There were kids in the room who were abusing alcohol, stating that it helps them to deal with depression, bullying, and feeling alone.
I hope I’m not the only one who sees a problem with this. I left with an awareness of my own struggles with alcohol at that age and felt an enormous amount of compassion for these kids. Some of these kids will be alcoholics before they even graduate from high school.
With public health issues resonating in my mind from The Trevor Project session, I moved on to a workshop about guerrilla social marketing for health promotion. It was very informative and will undoubtedly help me when planning health interventions.
After breaking for lunch, we had the pleasure of listening to Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, give her “State of the LGBT Union” speech. She discussed the ups and downs of the past year, the new results on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, and the role of LGBT equality in the global human rights movement. We took a few minutes to honor our counterparts in Uganda (and other places worldwide) who are literally risking their lives every day to fight for LGBT equality.
Her speech was moving in every single way. On top of being totally flustered by a hot, powerful woman in a pants suit, I left feeling so empowered about my ability to create change and about the momentum in our push for civil rights. More importantly, I left with a renewed sense of who I am, and a reminder that I believe in what is right and just for all humans, not just LGBT people.
As I started the afternoon, I though about how I could be an ally to everyone pushing for basic human rights. I took the time to think about immigrant and women’s rights, as well as racial justice. In the busy life of an LGBT activist, it is easy to get so involved with our own fight that we are too busy to be a good ally to others fighting the same fight for their community. My resolution: to be a better ally.
My first workshop of the afternoon was on service learning and GLBT studies in universities. LGBTQ services at the University of Minnesota spoke about a novel year-long service learning program they recently had for those who wanted to gain knowledge in social justice and advocacy.
Like the workshop I attended on social marketing and health promotion, I learned numerous skills that I will undoubtedly take back to ASU to create change. I was writing feverishly the whole time, dreaming of plans to incorporate service learning in ASU’s LGBT Certificate.
My final workshop of the day was called “God Hates Fags,” a Workshop on spiritual bullying. The session was facilitated by a bullying expert and psychologist from Baton Rouge, LA. The stories he told about the children he sees and the schools he consults with were simply horrific.
One child, a boy who was just ten years old, was told by a teacher that he was “acting too gay” and that it was a sin. The teacher then took him over to a group of older students and said: “show this kid what happens to boys who are gay.” The older kids physically assaulted the young boy which the child watched. The teacher was not disciplined in any way. This was less than two years ago.
Another high school boy was determined by a local Fellowship of Christian Athletes to be “possessed.” The students took it upon themselves to perform “exorcisms” on the student, which involved beating him in the head with a bible. One day, the boy being bullied took the bible from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and tore it up. The boy was suspended for tearing up the bible. There were no sanctions placed on The Fellowship of “Christian” Athletes.
These stories are simply heart breaking.
So are the facts.
– 85% of LGBT students report being verbally harassed at school.
– 40% of LGBT students report being physically harassed at school.
– 20% of LGBT students report being physically assaulted at school.
– 30% of those that are bullied miss more than one day of school a month.
– 61% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school.
– 28% of bullied students drop out because they are bullied
– 75% of school shootings can be tied back to LGBT bullying (based on either sexual orientation/gender identity or perceived sexual orientation/gender identity)
– LGBT students are four times as likely be threatened with a weapon
– LGBT students are four times as likely to attempt suicide.
To me, the most troubling part of these stories is that the majority if students report that while they were being bullied, there were adults nearby who didn’t say anything. When children do speak up for themselves, they’re told not to tattle or to learn to stand up for themselves or some other invalidating comment that takes the responsibility off of the bully and puts it on to the victim.
So where are these messages coming from? Look around you. What happens when you get bullies repeating the messages of the misinformed religious right, with no bystanders standing up and saying they’re wrong? If you’re a kid and you’re told numerous times a day, from a young age, that you are inherently wrong and destined to go to hell, what would you expect to happen? Why would you think it’s so odd that kids are bringing weapons to school? They’re beat down over and over, with no one to protect them. So when you tell a kid to “stand up for him/herself” and to “not be a tattle tale,” that’s what you get.
My challenge for you: think about your actions and live with purpose. Next time someone says “boys will be boys,” speak up. There is no excuse for bullying. Religious yourself? Contact a biblical scholar and ask them what the Bible really says about LGBT folks. Think about the context of the Bible and the time in which it was written. The Bible also says those that work on Sunday should be killed. Where are all of those campaigns? Being religious does not mean you have to be homophobic.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” MLK