Spirit Day: Wear purple on Thursday to support LGBT youth

Concerns about LGBT issues in America often focus on things such as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the latest Republican attack on LGBT civil rights, or grassroots campaigns to achieve marriage equality. However, rarely do issues concerning LGBT youth garner much national attention, except following a tragedy, such as the string of suicides by gay youths last year.    
Anti-LGBT bullying is a serious issue in this nation. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, GLSEN, 90% of LGBT students report being bullied at school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This ranges from threats to actual beatings, and, in some drastic cases, murder. Three-fourths report hearing homophobic slurs (f*ggt, d*ke) on a regular basis, and 30% missed a day of class in the past month due to safety concerns. Perhaps not surprising after reading that, LGBT teens are up to 300 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Homophobic bullying is not like other types of bullying,” the report says. “If a student is bullied based on race, religion, their weight etc., they can run home to an understanding (often relatable) parent/family who understands their pain and can console them. Gay youth do not have that refuge as they 1) are usually not out to themselves yet, and 2) fear being thrown out of their homes and family. This pent up frustration, hurt and anger eventually leads to what has (sadly) been happening in the media as of late.”

Unfortunately, in many cases, the very institutions that are meant to protect students are making matters worse for LGBT students. Take, for example, a 17-year-old male cheerleader who was kicked off the varsity cheerleading squad at his Texas high school, which he had trained for two years to make, and suspended because a security camera caught him kissing another male. The student claims that public displays are common among straight teens at the school, and that he would not have been punished had a camera caught him kissing a female. Or, take Tennessee’s “Don’t say gay” law, which prohibits teachers from discussing any LGBT issues, effectively preventing them from intervening or protecting students being bullied on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Many of these students, who are victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, turn on the television and find out that many of their political leaders are anti-gay bullies as well, who use marginalization of these youth for political gain.  

Clearly there is an anti-LGBT bullying problem in this country, made worse by the vehement rhetoric of many of our religious and political leaders. It is intuitive that children who hear about the evils of gays and lesbians, how they are supposedly trying to destroy their families, or rape children, would express that negativity upon LGBT youths; yet too many adults who should know better keep spewing their irresponsible garbage. It is just sad that it took the deaths of Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase, Jamey Rodemeyer, and Jamie Hubley, among several others, for people to start realizing this.

Thankfully, there are people willing to stand up and fight against LGBT bullying. GLAAD has produced an anti-bullying PSA campaign called “Amplify Your Voice” featuring celebrities such as Amy Poehler, Shaquille O’Neal, and Mario Lopez. Seattle Stranger columnist Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better Project,” featuring often emotional stories from celebrities and individuals about how life gets better after high school, encouraging youths to live to see that future. The Trevor Project, a 24-hour nonprofit LGBTQ suicide-prevention hotline created in 1998, has recently been endorsed and supported by several celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe in order to raise awareness

Spirit Day was organized in 2010 by Brittany McMillan as a response to the young LGBT people who had taken their own lives following relentless anti-LGBT bullying. Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag. This serves to promote awareness of both the bullying problem, and the resources available for LGBT youth.

So this Thursday, put on purple to show your support for LGBT-youths, and to raise awareness of teen suicide as well as the resources available for help. If you see bullying, speak up.And if you see or know someone who might need help, stretch out a helping hand. Your help could save a life.

If you (or anyone you know) are thinking about taking your own life, know that you are not alone and that there are people you can help. Call the Trevor Project anytime at (866) 488 7386.

Image: juliejordanscott CC 2.0  


Ryan C. Ebersole
Ryan C. Ebersole

Ryan Ebersole is a mental health counselor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Having finished his Masters degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, his undergraduate degree at the University of Evansville in Indiana, high school in the Fort Worth area of Texas and pre-K in Puerto Rico, and having been born in Florida, he has experienced several areas of the county.

While in Indiana, he worked at a social work agency for HIV+ clients, as well as a low-income community drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility - both of which caused him to take a great interest in the stigmatized and the disadvantaged in our society. Now as a mental health professional, he hopes to serve these groups, as well as continue political activism, especially for LGBT and health care rights, on the side.