By: Eliza Partika
Recently, my friend was harassed for being gay. Until this happened, I was a blissful bystander, aware that people were harassed for identifying as LGBT+, but not enough to stand up and really say something in action or in writing. This situation was an eye opener to the true amount of devastatingly ignorant harassment that goes on in the high school setting towards LGBT+ teens; I was under the impression that LGBT+ teens felt fairly safe, well-represented, and accepted here at Benicia High School.
What’s funny is, nothing ever seems that big of a deal until it affects you or your circle of friends; that is exactly what has happened in my situation. We must be above that, and realize that it is never okay to harass someone so ignorantly as that person did to my friend. This is especially if the perpetrator is harassing them based on sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or anything along those lines. High school is a place where teens are discovering themselves and how they fit into the world around them. If they are constantly bludgeoned with slurs and hate-filled harassment, then what are we teaching them about themselves? About the world? That it is a hateful place where they are not accepted or welcome? All teens should feel they are safe at school. They should not feel they have to hide themselves for protection. This needs to be solved, not only for Benicia High’s LGBTQ community, but for all those who feel marginalized or harassed by their peers.
The bottom line is that in order to effectively combat the harassment that plagues not only teens that identify as LGBT, but all teens, we must educate people that are not directly affected by harassment to speak out against it. A student, who wishes to remain anonymous said, “If people are aware and educated about the problems the [LGBT+] community faces today, especially at school, it might allow teens who witness verbal harassment towards the community to stand up and speak out which would provide a much safer and open space for trans youth.”
A problem that teens in the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance Club) have said consistently follows teens who identify with the LGBT+ community is gay slurs. These slurs range from calling something “gay” to more offensive slurs like “faggot” and “he-she” aimed directly at a person. The use of these slurs stems from inexperience and a societal uneasiness directed towards the LGBT+ community, and according to the same anonymous source, “If people knew just how [gay slurs] affected LGBT teens, they wouldn’t use them.” According to http://www.endabusewi.org, the consequences of this verbal abuse include truancy, dropping out of school, poor grades, alcohol and drug abuse, physical abuse, homelessness, and even suicide. In the last ten years, 51 youth have been murdered in confirmed cases of anti-transgender attacks. The actual number is likely higher. Over 50% of transgender youth attempt suicide. LGBT+ suicides account for 30% of suicides each year. These statistics are synonymous with life and death for an LGBT+ teen, and constitute an extreme amount of emotional and physical distress. This is why, according to the anonymous source, that awareness and representation of the LGBT community and their Allies is so vital.
According to Joy Firman, a speaker who came to talk about including the LGBT+ community, the best ways that students can support their LGBT+ peers is to remember that “ Very few people when they’re fifteen are going to be who they are for the rest of their life… respecting that everyone might be under a transition of some kind… and [that trans people] have a very fundamental part of themselves changing. They are not changing who they are inside but they are changing their outside world to better reflect what’s going on inside them.” With this in mind, Firman emphasized that “little things” like including those people in activities that are organized by something other than gender help immensely, as they “take the pressure off” to hide who they are. “A lot of trans people are put into a box…. If I know my school is supportive, that’s a huge thing.” 55% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 38% of students feel unsafe at school because of gender expression, as reported by thinkprogress.org. Gender expression is how we each embody our masculinity and femininity, whereas gender identity is the innate sense of our biologically assigned gender, either male or female.
Firman says that sometimes, “Just being friends, treating people as people” is the best thing anyone looking to support the LGBT+ community can do. So often, people are so concerned with which pronoun trans people prefer to be known as and how they will approach talking about gender and other sensitive issues, they forget that what trans and LGBT+ teens really want is to be treated like anyone else. “Sometimes, I’m just tired of that stuff too, as a trans person,” says Firman. “and I just want to hang out, I just want to play basketball, I just want to dance, I just want to go on a date, I just want to get a good grade on my homework — all the other things that everyone else cares about.”
Although doing normal teenage activities is fun, there is a time when trans and LGBT+ youth, like all people, need someone to listen to them, comfort them, and support them more than anything else. “A lot of people are afraid they’re going to lose all their friends, their family’s going to hate them, and that they’re going to be made fun of all the time…so if you can offer company, you know?” Firman stated.
The harassment of students in the LGBT+ community is something that is of extremely poor taste, and with the rest of the world moving towards acceptance of those who may not identify as straight, students need to be aware of these things. We need to have the sense to change the mindsets of the older generations to create a world where everyone feels safe on the outside, no matter who they are within.
If you are the friend of a trans or LGBT+ teen and are concerned about them in any way, don’t hesitate to contact any hotlines for LGBTQ teens, or refer them to any of the hotlines or resource pages listed below. Disclaimer: hotlines and resources listed below are not the only means of receiving help. Hotlines are open 24/7 for support.