Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
WASHINGTON 8/11/2016 – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, today responded to the alarming results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide survey of high school students, which found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people are far more likely to experience violence and bullying, and attempt suicide, than their heterosexual peers.
“Anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment have serious and heartbreaking consequences for young people and these numbers make that more clear than ever,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC Foundation’s Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Trainings. “This is a call to action to support and protect our young people. From the messages youth receive at their kitchen table, in their classroom, and on prime-time T.V., we all must do more to put an end to anti-LGBTQ stigma. Policymakers, for one, can start with the passage and implementation of local, state, and federal anti-bullying policies and nondiscrimination protections.”
“The CDC’s plan to add gender identity questions to future student surveys will enhance our understanding of obstacles faced by LGBTQ young people, and help drive our urgent efforts to end the stigma they face and ensure that all young people are safe, supported and affirmed,” Maxwell continued.
This year marked the first time the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) asked young people about their sexual orientation. The results from this year’s survey are sobering:
Thirty-four percent of LGB teens reported having been bullied in school, and 18 percent said they had been been forced to have sex;
Twenty-three percent reported experiencing sexual violence, and 18 percent were subjected to physical violence from someone they were dating;
And more than 30 percent reported having attempted suicide in the past year alone.
The YRBS surveys teens—15,713 in 2015—in high schools across the country. While this report gives insight into the plight of LGB youth, it is not a complete picture: a number of states eliminated sexual orientation questions from their surveys. Additionally, the YRBS still does not identify teens who are transgender or gender-expansive—even though previous research suggests that transgender teens are more likely to experience violence and other serious problems. The CDC is expected to add these questions to the YRBS in the future.
Researchers believe that anti-LGBTQ stigma is a major cause of problems including depression, violence and substance abuse among LGBTQ young people. They also know that studies show support from peers, family and other important adults helps enormously. HRC’s Welcoming Schools program works to reduce stigma and bullying starting in elementary school by providing professional development training to teachers. Through the All Children – All Families project, HRC trains child welfare workers to support LGBTQ youth. Last month, HRC partnered with the American Counseling Association to release the first of five online learning modules for counselors who work with LGBTQ young people. HRC’s annual Time to Thrive conference gives youth-serving professionals the tools they need to promote LGBTQ youth well-being.
While current federal law provides some support to promote school safety, it does not comprehensively and expressly focus on bullying or harassment and in no way addresses the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ youth. That is why Congress needs to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act–legislation that would require school districts to adopt anti-bullying and harassment policies that specifically include bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.