By Benjamin Wolf, Contributing Editor
In June of 1969, the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City was a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community at a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. A series of raids by the NYPD on the neighborhood’s many gay bars that summer caused tensions between the police and the LGBTQ+ community to rise. On the night of June 28th, a raid on a bar called the Stonewall Inn proved to be the spark that ignited a powder keg of frustration, leading to six days of demonstrations against gay discrimination and, ultimately, birthed the modern gay rights movement. To commemorate the events at Stonewall, June has been designated Pride Month in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Although many strides have been made by the LGBTQ+ community in the United States in the last 40 years, there is still much work to be done. This is especially true for young people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The experience of LGBTQ+ people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the United States is a difficult one. LGBTQ+ youth are most likely to experience homelessness, with roughly 40% of homeless youth falling into this category. As of 2017, one in four LGBTQ+ youth will attempt suicide at some point during adolescence, and over half will be sexually harassed based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Overall, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience depression and stress, resulting in a suicide rate three times that of their heterosexual peers. For trans youth and LGBTQ+ youth of color, the numbers are even worse, with both subsets experiencing these difficulties at even higher rates than their white and CIS-Gendered peers.
For many LGBTQ+ youth, the main source of distress comes from their own families. In a survey of over 10,000 LGBTQ+ youth conducted in 2018, nearly 70% of respondents reported hearing negative comments about LGBTQ+ people from their families. Those choosing to come out to their parents face the potential of being forced to vacate their homes, physical violence, and being cut off from desperately needed financial resources. In addition to that, a disturbing number of young people are forced by family members to seek “treatment” in the form of conversion therapy; a form of twisted psychotherapy that aims to change ones sexual orientation or gender identity, often through the use of physical pain to create negative associations with the subject’s natural desires.
Meanwhile, school systems across the country are either unprepared to address mistreatment of their LGBTQ+ students, or are explicitly complicit in said mistreatment. In the aforementioned 2018 survey of LGBTQ+ youth, 73% of respondents experienced bullying and harassment from their peers at school, while 11% reported more extreme discrimination in the form of targeted sexual assault based on their orientation or gender identity. Despite its commonality, bullying someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is outlawed in less than half of all US states. Even more troubling, one study found that school faculty members are less likely to intervene in instances of bullying based on sexual orientation than other types of in school harassment. Teachers are also less likely to speak about LGBTQ+ issues with students due to their own discomfort with LGBTQ+ subjects, as well as pressure from parents and school administrators. There are even some states, such as Texas and South Carolina, where teachers and staff discussing LGBTQ+ issues is strictly prohibited by law.
Family rejection and a lack of secure social spaces in adolescence are the driving forces behind many of the issues faced by LGBTQ+ youth today. When combining these difficulties with the other challenges that teenagers and young adults face, it is paramount that we take action to support these young people. Large or small, your actions can make a profound difference in the life of LGBTQ+ in your community.
As a first step, we challenge you to learn more about LGBTQ+ concepts and issues . For more concrete action, consider volunteering with your local school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter; or contact your school administrators to form your own GSA chapter if one does not already exist. These kinds of student led organizations seek to ally gay and straight students to create lasting social change in their communities. You can also consider donating to or volunteering your time with organizations like the Trevor Project, a national organization dedicated to providing resources, educational materials, and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. Even something as small as showing your support by amplifying LGBTQ+ artists, storytellers, and organizations on your personal social media pages, can have a huge impact on young people in your community.
Despite the harrowing statistics there is reason for hope. A Pew Research study found that, over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who identify as accepting of homosexuality in society has increased from 51% to 72%. In terms of legislative victories, 2020 saw more Pro-LGBTQ+ bills passed than those against, by a margin of 47:5, while more states than ever before (21) have implemented full protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks to the efforts of activists, legislators, and millions of individuals around the country, we have made great strides over the past century. Everyday people like you and me must continue to take steps to push for a safer and more inclusive country for LGBTQ+ youth.