Adolescent and teen years bring with them unique challenges, and sometimes more so for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth, who experience depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use disorders, and even suicide at an alarmingly higher rate than their heterosexual peers due to intense discrimination. According to a NAMI article, “A recent review of literature suggests that rates of suicide attempt among GLB youth are 20-40% higher than among non-GLB youth.”
Mental Health America published the following statistics as evidence to the harmful results experienced by LGBT youth due to bullying:
- Substance Use: Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are more than twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
- Happiness: Only 37% of LGBT youth report being happy, while 67% of non-LGBT youth say they are happy. However, over 80% of LGBT youth believe they will be happy eventually, with nearly half believing that they will need to move away from their current town to find happiness.
- Self-Harm: With each instance of verbal or physical harassment, the risk of self-harm among LGBT youth is 2 ½ times more likely.
- Suicide: Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
Over the past several years, the media has brought our attention to cases of teens, such as Asher Brown (13), Seth Walsh (13), Billy Lucas (15), and Tyler Clementi (18) who committed suicide, as a result of bullying, harassment and physical assault over their sexual orientation or gender identity.
2015 was a landmark year for the LGBT community, with government leading a societal shift that could chip away at barriers for LGBT youth, and the entertainment industry and media front and center as well.
On May 29th, 2015, President Barack Obama once again, proclaimed the month of June, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, stating that “All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.” Read Proclamation
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) has traditionally been celebrated each year in the U.S. throughout the month of June to commemorate the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, regarded by many as the first major movement on behalf of equal rights for homosexuals. In brief, the riots began after New York City police attempted to shut down a gay club in Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Inn was a Mafia-owned “dive” that had been serving alcohol without a license. It also happened to be a gay club. Targeting gay bars and clubs was routine at the time and mostly occurred without incident. This particular night however, amidst the many civil rights movements that were taking place in the late 1960’s, the local gay community fought back against years of discrimination and oppression.
While not the first Presidential proclamation declaring June as Gay Pride Month (the first made by President Clinton in 1999), President Obama’s proclamation not only calls attention to the issues facing the LGBT Community, but highlights, in particular, issues facing LGBT youth such as homelessness and calling an end to conversion therapy for minors.
Until 1973, being gay was considered a mental illness and was listed in the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, published in 1952, as “sociopathic personality disturbance” and then as a “sexual deviation” in the DSM-II, which came out in 1968. The diagnosis of Sexual Orientation Disturbance, which remained in the Manual, left the door open for some groups to claim that the practice of sexual conversion therapies was legitimate and effective.
The American Psychological Association “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”
Soon after, on June 26, 2015 after over 40 years of individual court battles throughout the nation, the United StatesSupreme Court handed down its landmark ruling, 5-4 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states and declaring it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, stating:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The Judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”
Legitimizing the institution of marriage on a national scale for same-sex couples could serve as another step toward removing barriers of social discrimination and oppression for LGBT Youth, opening the door to a future more in line with their non-LGBT peers.
On the entertainment front, one of our nations most successful and beloved athletes from the 1970’s, Bruce Jenner, recently “came out” about his life-long desire to be a woman and indeed transformed before our very eyes into Caitlyn Jenner. ESPN recently honored Caitlyn with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY’s, and amidst controversy has defended its decision. Maura Mandt, ESPYs co-executive producer states:
“I think Caitlyn’s decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance,”
“That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport,” she further defends the decision. “One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice.”
“This is a subject matter where there are kids in the middle of the country killing themselves [over gender identity questions] and the whole courage of Caitlyn coming out is we all know now someone who is transgender.”
Additionally, the It Gets Better Project, which began in 2010 as a You Tube video created by syndicated columnist and author, Dan Savage and his partner, Tom Miller, to inspire LGBT youth experiencing harassment, is now a worldwide movement that has received support from individuals, internationally, from all walks of life, in the form of over 50,000 video submissions.
We are entering an age where barriers for LGBT youth are being chipped away and they will be able to look to mainstream channels for support, acceptance, and role models.