Bullying of LGBT youth goes beyond the schoolyard

The Human Rights Campaign has just completed the largest ever survey of more than 10,000 LGBT teens across the country on what life is like for them in America today. We learned that while peer-to-peer bullying is hurtful to LGBT teens, it’s actually their peers that teens say are the most accepting. On the other hand, it is the adults in their communities – be it their elected leaders or their churches or even their families – that they feel least accept them.
 

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For too many LGBT people in this country, they’ve grown up being told every day that they’re different, they’re less-than, and they’re not worthy. They read in the newspaper that politicians think they don’t deserve to be protected against bullying, or covered by workplace non-discrimination laws, or even be able to one day marry the person they love.  In fact a staggering 92 percent of LGBT youth report hearing negative messages about being gay – and 60 percent say they hear those messages from elected leaders.
 
Thankfully many of these young people do believe that life will one day get better.  But according to our survey, 63 percent say they’ll have to move away from their community if they ever want to be accepted. Can you imagine?  Life is so miserable that they feel like they have to leave their family and friends behind in order to live a happy life. There shouldn’t just be a patchwork of places where young people can believe in themselves; that should be the norm from coast to coast. Our country’s LGBT youth should be bombarded with the message of “it’s ok to be who you are,” not “the only way you’re going to be happy is to move to San Francisco.” And the reality is that packing up and moving isn’t something most LGBT people could afford anyway.
 
America’s leaders have a responsibility to these youth. Those in power need to realize that their words and actions (or inactions) have severe consequences. Never should a kid have to hear a politician on TV shaming them deeper into the closet or saying that their relationship is worth less than someone else’s. They should be able to go to school every day knowing that adults care about them without worrying about senseless bullying.
 
There’s no doubt that around this country tonight there are LGBT kids who will go to their rooms, turn off the lights and stare at the ceiling unable to sleep, worrying about what the next days and weeks and months may bring. But we can do something about it. We can pass anti-bullying laws and create safe havens in our schools. We can ensure that an employer can’t use one’s sexual orientation or gender identity as an excuse to fire someone.  And we can make sure that all loving and committed couples are able to share in the joy of marriage. When you stand against these protections you are endorsing state-sanctioned discrimination against a generation that deserves much better.

Griffin is the new president of Human Rights Campaign.

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