Stepping onto Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis to watch the annual Pride Parade this year, you could just feel the crowd’s heightened excitement stemming from the Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality just days before. Thousands waved rainbow flags, confetti spilled from tall buildings, and love reigned. Another step toward “a more perfect union,” as President Obama said about the marriage ruling, and truly it was.
As I took in a group of teenagers enjoying the festivities, I couldn’t help but think of all the LGBT kids who don’t have a reason to celebrate, like Nick, a sophomore from a small town near Chattanooga, Tenn., who last year was harassed, bullied, and threatened with death by stoning at his school for simply being gay. It reminded me of Val in New York, who shared, “Girls gave me the death stare ... the word ‘faggot’ was repeatedly whispered into my ear and students threatened to knife me if I told anyone.” It reminded me of my friend’s son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who took his own life at 11 after enduring relentless anti-LGBT bullying at his school in Springfield, Mass. While we will never know his sexual orientation, we know what words were being used against him.
Amidst all the progress we have made against anti-LGBT discrimination and for marriage equality, our LGBT kids continue to suffer great harm — with greater consequences. According to the latest National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, the leading organization on the state of LGBT kids in schools, the stories of Nick, Val, and Carl are all too representative of the experience of LGBT kids across the country. American schools remain unsafe and unwelcoming for the vast majority of LGBT students, according to the survey. Eighty-five percent of LGBT kids were verbally harassed in the past year, and one out of three skip a day of school because they feel unsafe in the classroom. Most schools don’t have comprehensive antibullying policies, and a majority engage in discriminatory practices. How can our kids learn and reach their greatest potential if they are afraid to show up to school?
All of this has grave consequences for LGBT kids, their families, and society as a whole. According to the GLSEN research, LGBT students as a whole have lower grade point averages, are less likely to go to college, have lower self-esteem, and increased levels of anxiety and depression. LGBT teens have higher rates of suicide than the general population. By failing to support our LGBT and other diverse kids, we are preventing hundreds of thousands from ever reaching their full potential; from being contributing members of society instead of a burden on it; from believing that they could be the next great scientist to find a cure or business leader who will create thousands of jobs or even president of the United States.
Progress is being made in many schools thanks to the hard work of organizations like GLSEN and courageous teachers. Still, as people of the LGBT community, as parents, relatives, and friends of LGBT kids, as school teachers and administrators, as legislators, as religious and community leaders, and as Americans, the responsibility falls to us too. This is a joyous time for LGBT people, but we can’t allow our kids to get lost in this moment. In fact, let’s not forget any kids, no matter their race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, station in life, or any other factor that might make them unique and special. Speak up, get involved, and make a difference. Take an additional step toward creating a more perfect union, something we can all celebrate with pride.