“I’m not okay, but I will be,” says the Indiana teen who was ridiculed and beaten because of his sexual orientation at Alexandria Monroe High School. These are the words of a survivor. A fighter. Words that belong to someone stronger than the bullies who mercilessly pelted him in the locker room while making a video of the attack. Those boys are cowards who should be charged with a hate crime.
But for some LGBTQ teens, that strength does not come so easily. Factors like family, religion, and friends can fail, even undermine the support a teen needs when struggling with sexuality or gender issues.
A Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified that 33% of LGBT teens have been bullied on school property and 27.1% experienced cyberbullying. These teens reported a higher likelihood of missing school than their heterosexual counterparts out of concern for their safety.
Bullying affects a child’s ability to learn; more seriously, it endangers their lives. LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk for depression, substance abuse, and are a higher risk for suicide.
The first step in addressing the problem is awareness.
Watch out for the signs of bullying:
- Pay attention to your child’s belongings that have mysteriously gone missing.
- Notice changes in their eating habits (binging or avoiding foods).
- Watch for a sudden resistance to going to school, place of worship, etc.
- Note any sudden loss of friends.
- Take seriously talk of suicide or self-harm.
The second step is to make a safe space for LGBTQ Youth
- Declare a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and follow through with consequences.
- Schools and communities should reach out to LGBTQ youth and strengthen those connections.
- Schools and churches can invite LGBTQ organizations like PFLAG and The Trevor Project to educate and elevate the awareness of the community.
- Form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to create safer schools.
- Speak acceptance to these youth, teach them what bullying is, and empower them to have a voice. Model how to stand up to bullies and help them find safe spaces and to look for the people-helpers nearby.
Protecting LGBTQ youth against bullying and educating those who bully is a community effort.
“Stay true to yourself and if you get hit, do the best you can to make sure it never happens again,” the Alexandria Monroe High survivor says. Powerful words from a young man strong enough to stand up for himself. Whoever you are, you’re my hero. But no one should have to fight alone. Let us no longer tolerate bullying.—let us make a priority to end the bullying of our LGBTQ youth in our communities around the world.
Akiva Hersh’s novel BOY IN THE HOLE is being released in October the week of National Coming Out Day. The book deals with a gay youth struggling with his sexuality. It addresses themes of bullying and abuse and offers hope for those struggling to find themselves.
Mr. Hersh has degrees in Neurolinguistics and Theology and a background in training agents in the CIA, FBI, and Law Enforcement Officers.
He has helped abuse survivors, victims of bullying, and those struggling to come out as LGBTQ.