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What's It Really Going to Take to Make It Get Better?

June 1, 2011

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Like most "elders" in many communities, it's not rare to hear older LGBT advocates accuse the young generation of not knowing history or appreciating the sacrifices that were made. And while I understand this complaint, I often wonder, "But who is reaching out to teach them this history?"

young people

There is an obvious disconnect. The HIV/AIDS epidemic -- now 30 years in the making -- has profoundly impacted the lack of personal relationships between the "old" and the "new." Just think how much stronger those bonds would have been had AIDS not decimated two generations of potential mentors.

But we must also recognize that even if these bonds were stronger, adults can't begin to comprehend so much about being young and LGBT in 2011. LGBT youth have grown up with the existence of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and a plethora of diverse LGBT organizations such as FIERCE, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to name of few. These are places that youth can look to for help, resources and a sense of acceptance. Also, we live in an era of television shows such as Fox's musical sensation Glee (especially Chris Colfer), Pretty Little Liars, Greek, Ugly Betty and Degrassi, which all have LGBT characters that young people can relate to and be affirmed by.


Teens riding subways see ads of gay men loving each other, and last year Aladdin, a major publishing imprint, released a children's book featuring a 4-year-old African-American boy who likes to dress up like a girl -- written by his mom.

Ah yes, we've come a long way.

But while on paper it appears to be gay, gay, every day for our LGBT youths, statistics -- and our evening news reports -- tell a radically different story. Children and teens are still experiencing societal homophobia, verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of family and peers and higher rates of suicide than their straight counterparts. The 2009 School Climate Survey by the GLSEN revealed that nearly nine out of every 10 LGBT students are harassed in school. According to LGBT youth suicide-prevention advocacy organization the Trevor Project, lesbian, gay or bisexual youth are up to four times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers; and nearly half of transgender youths have seriously considered suicide.

And sadly, bullying can impact more than one's mental health. Recently, researchers from the University of Arizona analyzed data and found that being bullied can negatively impact other health outcomes including increasing the risk of HIV infection.

Last year's media blitz about the rash of LGBT suicides prompted Dan Savage, LGBT advocate, noted sex columnist and parent, to publicly make a profound comment: "Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now." He and his partner made and posted a video on YouTube telling LGBT youths that while it may not be great now, "it gets better." Hence the "It Gets Better" campaign was born.

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This article was provided by TheBody.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Scott (Canada : Alberta : Edmonton) Thu., Jun. 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm UTC
Nice article, Olivia, but I think you miss the biggest contributor to alienation among LGBT teens: their parents.

Homophobic parents purposely erect barriers to prevent their kids from being exposed to positive LGBT role models. It isn't that there aren't enough role models or that adults aren't reaching out.

This problem will only be resolved through continuing progress in the wider society.
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