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Happy National Coming Out Day!

By Kim Jackson, Building Bridges Intern

Today, on National Coming Out Day, I would like to start a dialog about bullying within the LGBTQ youth community.

Imagine…

…picking up your child after school. And when you ask them how their day went, they burst into tears. You ask what is wrong, and they tell you that one of their classmates told them that they don’t want to be their friend anymore because their moms are lesbians, and that being gay is wrong. They pick on her because one of her mom’s doesn’t fit into what society tells us a mom should look like; they tell her that 2 women cannot get married. This is a true story that happened to my daughter.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is any unwanted, aggressive behavior that occurs between school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This behavior is often repeated and can have serious, long-lasting effects on those that are victims.

Bullying looks different for everyone.

Actions such as teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threats to cause harm are things that bullies use to victimize others. Bullying is not just physical acts of aggression, but can also be socially based such as spreading rumors about someone or telling other children not to be friends with someone.

Why are we talking about this?

Coming out is the process of self-disclosure and acceptance of one’s own sexual orientation or gender identity. It is one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do, and continue to do, as I am now coming out to all of you whom I may or may not have ever met.

I knew from a very young age that I was different from my female friends. I never went through a boy-crazed phase; I was never interested in playing with dolls or any of the stereotypical things that define being a girl in American culture. For me, I finally had the words to describe what I was feeling my entire life at the age of 15 when I realized that I had a crush on my female best friend.

The emotions that followed were confusion and fear. I was confused because I had never been around anyone who ever identified as LGBTQ, and I thought something was wrong with me. I was fearful because growing up in the Midwest in the mid 90’s, support for the LGBTQ community was still pretty much invisible. Nobody talked about being gay in my community, and if they did, it was always in a negative context. “Being gay is a sin.” “Being gay is wrong.”

I had to keep my thoughts and my feelings to myself out of fear of what others would say, or fear of what others would think. It took me another 6 years after my realization to finally begin to accept that how I felt was okay and begin my process of coming out.

Recently, there has been an upward surge in the support of the LGBTQ community and a recent  survey that shows how many Americans support the LGBTQ Community’s Rights reports that “72% of American’s support laws that protect the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ”.

[Image description: Photo of a rainbow and hearts drawn in chalk on the sidewalk. Inside the rainbow reads “You are not alone.”]

This community support is giving space for LGBTQ youth to come out at earlier stages in their life. However, the process is not getting any easier and may even have more negative effects compared to others who come out later in life.

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s report on growing up LGBT in America, “LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at” and up to 26% of LGBT youth say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by their loved ones, trouble at school/bullying, and a fear to be out/open.

When these youth are rejected by family and friends they are more likely to be unable to accept themselves and their identities which can lead to a life of unhappiness and self-isolation.

In August 2018, a 9-year-old boy in Denver committed suicide because he was bullied and told to kill himself after came out to his classmates. He was in the 4th grade. The Trevor Project says that “each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increase the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average” and “LGBT youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth”. So how can we create a safe place for youth to come out and feel accepted?

Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools for All Children and Families

It is important for all youth, regardless of how they – or their family members – identify to feel physically and emotionally safe within their home, schools, and communities. Youth who feel supported and loved will thrive in their environments, but how can we specifically create a space for the young people who find themselves identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer?

  • Build strong connections and keep the lines of communication open. This lets LGBTQ youth know that they are supported by their families, friends, schools and communities. Talk about bullying and encourage them to report bullying if it happens.
  • Establish a safe environment within schools. Equip educators with the skills to put their foot down against treating someone differently because they are or are rumored to be LGBTQ.
  • Support laws that protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identities in the school systems.
  • Allow space for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) within schools to help create safer environments for LGBTQ students. GSAs are student-led and student-organized school clubs who try to create a safe, welcoming and accepting environment for all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These clubs make schools safer by providing support and educating others in about LGBTQ issues. GSA’s allow LGBTQ and straight students to work together to tackle issues that affect all students such as harassment and discrimination.

With the help of educators, parents, families, friends and other loved ones we can create a place where LGBTQ youth feel loved and supported within their communities, and bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity becomes a thing of the past.

Today we celebrate National Coming Out Day and recognize National Bullying Prevention Month.  It is my hope that together we can create a world where LGBTQ youth can come out without feeling anxious or fearful of what others will say or do.  That children of same sex couples can celebrate their parents without being teased or bullied.

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