“What’s it to you”, the email begins. “Why don’t you just shut up about gay kids. It’s not like they have it so bad.”It is unsigned, of course, and the identity of the sender is protected by one of those anonymous email sites where one can send any matter of vitriol to others without recourse. I could respond to the email directly, but my preference is always to drag the things that lurk in the dark into the light, and so I do so today.
The LGBTQ youth issue boiled over again recently in an article, an op-ed and a letter to the editor in our local daily paper. I won’t comment further on those directly, except to say I am exceptionally proud of the Fort McMurray Public School District and their province-leading proactive approach to LGBTQ youth in their schools. The Intrepid Junior Blogger, who spent eleven years of her educational life in the FMPSD, was one of the beneficiaries of this proactive stance, and she was one of the students who founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at Westwood High School. Her experience at the FMPSD has formed her expectations as to how this issue is approached.So, at the very outset of answering the “what’s it to you” question my daughter’s experience must be considered. I never even knew what a GSA was until she informed me she was helping to found one. Together she and I watched the debacle over Bill 10, and together she and I became progressively more informed on LGBTQ youth. Social justice has always mattered to me, and over time it has come to figure prominently in the IJB’s life, too. When my daughter asked me to use the tools in my tool kit – meaning this blog and my ability to write – to help to address the issues facing LGBTQ youth it meant I needed to learn far more than I knew, and so I did.
What I learned was devastating to me. We often speak of how our society will be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable – children, seniors and the like. And the reality is that statistics clearly show LGBTQ youth are a vulnerable group and one in need of specific consideration as the challenges they face are tremendous.The following are taken directly from an Egale Canada Human Rights Trust survey in Canadian schools – and warrant immediate and serious attention:
Key Findings: School Climates in Canada Today
Homophobic and Transphobic Comments
· 70% of all participating students, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, reported hearing expressions such as "that's so gay" every day in school and almost half (48%) reported hearing remarks such as "faggot," "lezbo," and "dyke" every day in school.
· Almost 10% of LGBTQ students reported having heard homophobic comments from teachers daily or weekly (17% of trans students; 10% of female sexual minority students; and 8% of male sexual minority students). Even more LGBTQ students reported that they had heard teachers use negative genderrelated or transphobic comments daily or weekly: 23% of trans students; 15% of male sexual minority students; and 12% of female sexual minority students.
· Hardly any LGBTQ students reported that they never heard homophobic comments from other students (1% of trans students; 2% of female sexual minority students; 4% of male sexual minority students). This suggests that if you are a sexual minority student in a Canadian school, it is highly likely that you will hear insulting things about your sexual orientation.
· 74% of trans students, 55% of sexual minority students, and 26% of non-LGBTQ students reported having been verbally harassed about their gender expression.
· 37% of trans students, 32% of female sexual minority students, and 20% of male sexual minority students reported being verbally harassed daily or weekly about their sexual orientation.
· 68% of trans students, 55% of female sexual minority students, and 42% of male sexual minority students reported being verbally harassed about their perceived gender or sexual orientation. Trans youth may report experiencing particularly high levels of harassment on the basis of perceived sexual orientation because often trans individuals are perceived as lesbian, gay, or bisexual when they are not.
· More than a third (37%) of youth with LGBTQ parents reported being verbally harassed about the sexual orientation of their parents. They are also more likely to be verbally harassed about their own gender expression (58% versus 34% of other students), perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (46% versus 20%), gender (45% versus 22%), and sexual orientation (44% versus 20%).
· More than one in five (21%) LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation. 20% of LGBTQ students and almost 10% of non-LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
· 37% of trans students, 21% of sexual minority students, and 10% of non-LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression.
· Over a quarter (27%) of youth with LGBTQ parents reported being physically harassed about the sexual orientation of their parents. They are also more likely than their peers to be physically harassed or assaulted in connection with their own gender expression (30% versus 13% of other students), perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (27% versus 12%), gender (25% versus 10%), and sexual orientation (25% versus 11%).
Levels of sexual harassment are high across the board for LGBTQ students. The following groups of students reported having experienced sexual harassment in school in the last year:
· 49% of trans students
· 45% of students with LGBTQ parents
· 43% of female bisexual students
· 42% of male bisexual students
· 40% of gay male students
· 33% of lesbian students
The higher levels of sexual harassment for gay male than for lesbian students may be attributable to greater exposure to sexual humiliation as a distinct form of unwanted sexual attention. Also, lesbian students may be less likely than gay male or trans students to perceive their experiences of harassment as sexual. Further analysis will explore the experiences included in this finding.
· Almost two thirds (64%) of LGBTQ students and 61% of students with LGBTQ parents reported that they feel unsafe at school
· The two school spaces most commonly experienced as unsafe by LGBTQ youth and youth with LGBTQ parents are places that are almost invariably gender-segregated: Phys. Ed. change rooms and washrooms. Almost half (49%) of LGBTQ youth and more than two fifths (42%) of youth with LGBTQ parents identified their Phys. Ed. change rooms as being unsafe; almost a third (30%) of non-LGBTQ youth agreed. More than two-fifths (43%) of LGBTQ students and almost two-fifths (41%) of youth with LGBTQ parents identified their school washrooms as being unsafe; more than a quarter (28%) of non-LGBTQ students agreed.
· Female sexual minority students were most likely to report feeling unsafe in their school change rooms (59%). High numbers (52%) of trans youth reported feeling unsafe in both change rooms and washrooms. It is notable that these places where female sexual minority and trans students often feel unsafe are gender-segregated areas. Not only does this contradict assumptions that most homophobic and transphobic incidents take place in males-only spaces, but it also points to a correlation between the policing of gender and youth not feeling safe.
If anyone can read those statistics without feeling a compelling sense of alarm for the safety of LGBTQ youth I would suggest their reading comprehension skills are weak. And here is another deeply troubling statistic: LGBTQ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide andsubstance abuse than their heterosexual peers.Fourteen times. It’s almost incomprehensible, but there it is, staring you in the face in black and white. Fourteen times.
That’s what it is to me.And that’s also why I have absolutely zero intention of “shutting up” about LGBTQ youth. It’s why anyone who claims they “don’t have it so bad” doesn’t have a clue about the reality, and it’s why LGBTQ youth issues may be the greatest emergency we as those with a responsibility to protect the vulnerable face today.
This isn’t about “being on the right side of history”. This isn’t about “political correctness”. This has nothing to do with race, nationality, colour or religion. This is about tender young lives, forever altered and far too many lost because we sit around as adults and talk and debate and “create policy” and make red tape so we can cut the red tape. This is about our children – yours and mine – and ensuring this world is one in which they thrive. This is about making sure every single youth, regardless of how they choose to self-identify, receives the benefit of our protection and is safe in their schools and in our world. You know who have never sent me anonymous emails or messages? The youth who have contacted me, LGBTQ and others, who wanted me to not only know their names but their experiences. Their bravery and courage is outstanding, and far outweighs the voices of those who wish to silence them. That's "what it is" to me - and what it should be to anyone with an ounce of compassion or concern for the children and young adults who are not only are most precious resource right now, but our very future. And those who do not see that, who think people like me should shut up? They may as well go tilting at other windmills, as this one is steadfast and not about to alter direction today, tomorrow or any day until those statistics related above are remnants of the past, and not the reality our youth live today.