Finding Hope in a Hopeless Time
The Fight for the Health and Future of LGBT Young People
by Debra Hauser, President, Advocates for Youth
Today’s report from the CDC is a clarion call to action for all who care about young people. In the wake of great political and cultural gains for LGBT Americans, LGBT youth continue to face bullying, harassment and sexual assault that leaves them feeling afraid and hopeless and five-times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Sixty percent of lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth responding to the 2015 YRBSS, reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.
Forty percent seriously considered suicide.
Thirty percent tried.
The sheer scope of this data is heartbreaking. One needs look no further than our homes, our schools, our faith communities and even our night clubs to understand how spectacularly we as a society are failing LGBT youth.
LGBT youth make up forty percent of all homeless youth. Thirty-four percent of LGB students report being bullied at school and 1 in 10 report missing school because they are afraid for their own safety. In fact, LGBT people are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other minority group. Approximately 1,100 of the almost 5,500 “single-bias” hate crimes reported to the F.B.I. in 2014 were spurred by the real or perceived sexual orientation of the victim.
And then there was Orlando.
Aspirational role models, strong and authentic connections to family and school, and equitable opportunities for a promising future are the cornerstones of healthy youth development – but LGBT youth grow up with little to sustain such a promise. Fear of homophobia keeps our LGBT educators from coming out as role models in our classrooms and our administrators from intervening effectively to stamp out bullying and violence on school grounds. We do not offer history or science or math lessons in which LGBT Americans are celebrated for their accomplishments or shout back loudly enough when some of our faith leaders misguidedly condemn the “homosexual lifestyle.” We have not banded together for gun control. We have not put a line in the proverbial sand to say—No! Not one of our youth will ever go homeless.
As the President of an organization that works with and for young people, I will tell you that youth, including LGBT youth, can be incredibly resilient—when given the support, love and acceptance they need. Young people are already leaders in the movement for LGBT health and rights. They not only advocate for changes in their schools, but they provide a support system for other LGBT young people – a network of young people working together to care for one another. And Millennials are the most accepting generation in history of LGBT individuals, valuing their humanity and supporting their struggle for equality.
Adults cannot and must not let young people carry this struggle alone. We need to stand alongside them. We need to stomp out pernicious systems and attitudes. We need to pay more attention to what is happening to young people, and take a holistic approach to their health and well-being.
The fight for the health and future of LGBT young people did not end with marriage equality. The stakes are high. These young people have the right to safety. They have the right to family acceptance, safe and supportive school environments, and LGBT mentors who can reflect back at them just how great they can be. Most of all we need to love and cherish our LGBT youth for exactly who they are. We must stand with young people as they reach for a safe and happy future.
The power is in our hands. How will you use it?