This Is the Day to Address Bullying of LGBT Youth

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Credit: torbakhopper on Flickr, under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)–The latest "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" episode shows Caitlyn Jenner and her stepdaughter Khloe Kardashian finally reconciling hard feelings about things Jenner said when the transformed star came out as a transgender woman in grand fashion, complete with a Vanity Fair cover.

Given how the public has embraced Jenner since she first spoke of her transition with Diane Sawyer in April, not to mention the historic U.S. Supreme Court victory for gay rights activists in June, which legally recognized same-sex marriage, it’s easy to believe respect is the new status quo for the LGBT community.

But one can be certain that on the same dates of these public victories, thousands of LGBT youth around the country were being calling "faggot," "dyke" or "tranny." Countless others were physically harassed or assaulted. And all of these things happened within the walls of their schools.

Dangers also lurk outside of schools. Hidden in my newsfeed, for instance, was the story of Keisha Jenkins, 22, a transgender woman killed in Philadelphia on Oct. 6. This marks the 21st homicide targeting transgender or gender non-conforming people in 2015 and the 18th homicide of a transgender woman of color.

How can we expect to address these horrific social injustices when we are not adequately addressing issues of victimization in our elementary and secondary schools?

Supporting the "spirit" of the LGBT community, as represented by the color purple on the LGBT pride rainbow flag, millions today, Oct. 15, will recognize GLAAD‘s Spirit Day. Beginning in 2010, Spirit Day asks people to go purple (wear purple, change their social media images, etc.) to stand up against bullying of LGBT youth.

‘Not There Yet’

Addressing bullying in the schoolyard may indeed be a first step to changing the "spirit" of acceptance within our broader community, but we are not there yet. More than half of the 7,898 LGBT students surveyed across the country in the 2013 National School Climate Survey reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. In the survey, published by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 30 percent also reported missing at least one full day of school due to feelings of discomfort or fear for their safety (with more than 10 percent missing more than four days in the past month).

LGBT students reported hearing homophobic language (64.5 percent) and transphobic language (33.1 percent) used by students and staff within the school, according to the survey. For transgender students, the realities are even more dismal. Almost all surveyed reported having been verbally harassed at school; over half said they were physically harassed; and a quarter reported having been assaulted (punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) within the year before the survey.

It should not be surprising that more hostile school climates are associated with negative outcomes for LGBT students. Recent studies have documented the impact victimization has on the achievement of LGBT students, post-secondary expectations and overall psychosocial adjustment. Perhaps even more devastatingly, these incidences of bullying and harassment send an implicit (but clear) message to youth: Hostility directed toward an individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is par for the course.

It is perplexing why a country founded on values of liberty and equality fails to notice the continued disparities faced by LGBT people. To be sure, we have made great strides. But while LGBT characters are increasingly represented on television and film, there is a lack of multidimensionality and diversity in many of these characterizations. And while Pope Francis may take on a "who am I to judge?" attitude toward same-sex marriage, countless faith leaders around the U.S. responded to the federal ruling with condemnation and moral outrage.

Even more perplexing is why this great nation has not responded with urgency to the hatred and fear that results in 21 homicides targeting transgender people in less than a year. The truth is, we have much more to worry about than the latest Kardashian feud.

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