Writing about Dan Savage (our Person of the Week) and his â€śIt Gets Betterâ€ť campaign today, I took occasion again to reflect on the sad losses that our country has suffered during the last few years when LGB (or perceived LGBTQ) teens took their lives after intense bullying at school.
It seems that only when our children become victims that we finally begin to pay attention to the violence that hate generates. My editorial today is to thank these teens and their parents and family and friends whose despondent outcries were heard around the world, and offer a caution.
Thanks to these teens, state legislatures around the country are considering measures to curb antigay behavior in schools (Iâ€™ll keep my skepticism about creating tolerance through regulation to myself). Perhaps more importantly, school boards, educational and teacher organizations are devising ways to educate themselves and model and teach tolerance in the classroom. Celebrities are using their enormous microphones to encourage their fans to treat each other with respect. Even the NBA did a series of public service announcements about hate speech.
The world should never have lost Jamie Rodemeyer, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, and thousands of others, but for this loss, our consciousness as a nation has been raised.
Slowly but surely we will become (and are becoming) a more gay-friendly country. This next generation will see things differently, as our generation did before. My 17-year old son, for example, was eager to tell my wife and I about a gay marriage discussion in his history class. According to him, he and his classmates universally felt it was â€śno big deal.â€ť Obviously, this is a small example from the tolerant Bay Area from a kid with two moms, but it did not surprise me.
I firmly believe that the worst of our days of discrimination are behind us, but here is where my optimism is replaced with great distress. 30 years ago, discrimination against gay and lesbian people was still tolerated, even encouraged in certain circles. Today, the transsexual community suffers as we did then.
And once again, it is our young people that are affected most dramatically. According to a recent report from GLSEN, a staggering 89.5% of transsexual youth feel unsafe at school. Other studies document that 32.2% of transgender youth have attempted suicide. 55% percent report being physically attacked. 74% report sexual harassment at school.
As a result, the rates of homelessness, prostitution, HIV, and drug addiction among transsexual youth and young adults are also much higher (although the problem does not apparently merit significant study). According to experts, too many government programs and social workers that are assigned to help are not prepared or even willing to serve their needs. LGBTQ-friendly organizations are too often unwelcoming as well.
Our transsexual youth are taking their own lives at higher rates than any other youth demographic and the outcry is not nearly loud enough. We didnâ€™t see national news coverage when 18-year old Chloe Lacey took her life. In fact, itâ€™s difficult to even find reported cases. There are plenty of deaths but the cases donâ€™t have faces because of discomfort from family and disinterest from media.
As I have been writing this afternoon, I looked up to see that Anderson Cooper was doing a piece on bullying. He showed clips of intolerant politicians attempting to stop antibullying efforts in the schools. He interviewed two authors that are experts on the topic. It was a positive segment that our community would appreciate. Cooper is an insightful journalist that I respect, but never once during this segment were transsexual kids discussed. He said â€śLGBT youth,â€ť but all the examples were about lesbian, gay and bisexual teens. None of these thoughtful experts documented the dramatic problem for our trans brothers and sisters. Invisibility reigns.
This is not an acceptable situation to me and this paper will do everything we can to increase the visibility of this remarkable, brave and vulnerable community.
- Dayna Verstegen is the editor of the Bay Times.