Spirit Day is October 19. Started in 2010 by teenager Brittany McMillan and championed by GLAAD, Spirit Day encourages everyone to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, who are often singled out for bullying.
Anti-LGBT bias is prevalent in schools, and it is dangerous. A 2009 study of LGBT middle and high school students and 2011 GLSEN School Climate survey highlight some of the challenges faced by students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender:
- Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school.
- Four of ten had been physically harassed at school.
- Six of ten felt unsafe at school.
- One of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school.
- 84.9% of LGBT students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”)
- 71.3% heard homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often at school.
- 80% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.
- Students who were frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression reported lower grades.
The impact of hostile or unsafe environments at school are far-reaching. Students who are victims of anti-LGBT bullying also experience higher levels of depression and decreased self-esteem. Minority stress also contributes to health inequities in LGBT young people.
As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. The leading reasons for LGBT youth being homeless or at-risk of being homeless are running away or being forced out due to family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely as heterosexual peers to contemplate or attempt suicide and are at elevated risk of tobacco and alcohol use, other drug use, high-risk sexual behaviors, and dating violence.
This is why events like Spirit Day are so important. They provide us with a critical opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges faced by LGBT young people and to advocate for solutions that could literally save lives.
Here are a few ways you can participate in Spirit Day this year:
- Encourage local schools to develop clear policies on LGBT bullying. According to the Harris Interactive survey, students from schools with clear policies on LGBT-related bullying are less likely to report a serious harassment problem and more likely to feel safe at school.
- Support LGBT-inclusive curricula. Students in schools with an inclusive curriculum are more likely to report that their classmates were accepting of LGBT people and less likely to hear homophobic remarks and negative comments about someone’s gender expression.
- Spread the word. Help raise awareness of the issue by joining an open conversation about bullying.
Together, we can continue to make things better for all young people.