Written by Alex Dersh
Published in the October 8, 2015 issue
Odds are you know a LGBTQ+ person in school or in other areas of your life. According to the 2013-2014 California Health Kids Survey, around 8 percent of Palo Alto students identify as LGBTQ+, meaning that 17 years ago at least one out of 12 of your classmates had fewer rights than others. Back in 1998, they couldn’t legally have sex in 17 states, and it was legal to fire them in 38 states for sexual orientation and 49 states for gender identity. Nowhere could they get married, adopt children or serve openly in the military, closing off opportunities afforded to everyone else. Bullying and harassment against LGBTQ+ youth at school because of their gender identity and sexual orientation was widespread, and they could still be forced into harmful conversion therapy.
As demonstrated by the summer’s Supreme Court decision, much progress has been made since 1998. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and dozens of states now follow California’s lead, which boasts some of the most comprehensive LGBTQ+ protections in the country. However, the United States has room for improvement. For example, only 20 states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The anti-bully-ing website, NoBullying.com, has described an epidemic of anti-LGBTQ+ harassment among youth, while the Human Rights Campaign called anti-transgender violence a “national crisis.” We must ensure that the progress achieved reaches all under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, especially transgender and genderqueer Americans.
We are very fortunate to have a LGBTQ+ friendly campus made possible by groups like the Gender & Sexuality Alliance, Adolescent Counseling Service’s Outlet and Not In Our Schools (NIOS) Week. But this isn’t the case everywhere, as many sexual and gender identities nationwide are still mistreated. According to a nationwide 2011 study, 82 percent of LGBTQ+ youth report problems with bullying due to sexual orientation, facing three times higher instances of cyberbullying than non-LGBTQ+ peers. LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide, and rejection from family increases this likelihood by eight times.
Anti-bullying and harassment protections for these youth are lacking in many parts of the country. Federal legislation has been proposed to grant anti-discrimination and bullying protections to LGBTQ+ youth currently afforded based on race and gender. Similar efforts have been made in states, most recently with California granting protections to transgender students in 2014, yet there is so much for California and the rest of the country to do to ensure that our LGBTQ+ youth feel safe and accepted.
No LGBTQ+ group faces more violence, rejection and discrimination than transgender and genderqueer people. Our country needs to make a conscious effort to grant them equal protection and treatment under our laws and in our schools. According to a nationwide 2011 study, 82 percent of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school, 44 percent report being physically abused and 67 percent faced online bullying.
This has resulted in transgender youth being six times more likely to feel depressed, eight times more likely to attempt suicide and three times more likely to abuse illegal drugs. More than half skip school on a regular basis due to bullying, and, of such bullies, only half are reported to the school. One transgender youth’s story from NoBullying.com describes being thrown into the trash. “If I have to go through this in order to live happy, I just didn’t want to be alive,” they said.
Something must change, as the realities for transgender youth are unacceptable. Many states have passed laws adding protections for LGBTQ+ youth, yet only 18 states ban discrimination and bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Addressing the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth and ensuring full equality are imperatives for the nation going forward.
Despite the great progress made in such short time, our country has a lot of catching up to do. The realities on the ground for the lesbian, gay, transgender and queer children of America have yet to be fully rectified, and while California is thankfully a bastion of progress, there are still too many students who face bullying and discrimination in our state. As we think of the LGBTQ+ people you know in your life, we should all vow to ensure that they’re treated well everywhere just as they are in Palo Alto.