by Jeremy Leaming
While the marriage equality movement appears to be on the upswing – poll numbers show more support for same-sex marriages and President Obama has provided eloquent backing – the broader landscape for the LGBT community remains fraught with enormous challenges.
The LGBT community continues to fight for protections against discrimination in the workplace, and struggle against callousness from government officials who are intent on cutting social safety net programs. And many LGBT youngsters, a new report finds, are growing up in hostile environments.
A report by the Human Rights Campaign surveying more than 10,000 LGBT youths nationwide, perhaps not surprisingly, shows the overwhelming number of LGBT youngsters report facing harassment, discrimination and isolation. The Los Angeles Times says the report “paints an often stark picture of the challenges of growing up gay in this country, even as same-sex marriage gains support among many Americans and other legal and cultural barriers to gay equality begin to fall.”
Linda Spears, vice president of policy for the Child Welfare League of America, told the newspaper that the HRC study confirms “our worst fears about LGBT kids. These kids are often so vulnerable in the way their lives are being led because of the lack of support they have."
The report found that LGBT youth are “more than two times as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they have been verbally harassed and called names at school. Among LGBT youth, half (51%) have been verbally harassed at school, compared with 25% among non-LGBT students.”
Four in ten LGBT youth, 13 to 17 year-olds, said they lived in a community not accepting of them. The report found that only 21 percent of LGBT youth say they reside in a place with a community that helps LGBT people.
The study contained scores of interviews with LGBT youngsters. One said she would like to be “able to go to school without being called a faggot or a dyke bitch. I don’t want to hide in the shadows about my sexuality because my safety is on the line.” Another said a “lot kids at my school think it’s sick and nasty and will give me looks when I hold hands with my friend, and call us fags and lesbos.”
HRC says the report shows the “deck is stacked against the young people growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in America. Official government discrimination or indifference along with ostracism leaves many teens disaffected and disconnected in their own homes and neighborhoods.”
Despite the uptick in support of marriage equality at least in national polling, a majority of states prohibit same-sex marriage. So even on the marriage equality front, the message is actually a mixed one. Last month North Carolinians overwhelmingly supported a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. The vote was an over-the-top statement to say the least, since North Carolina already had a law banning marriage equality.
The Religious Right’s ongoing demonization of lesbians and gay men is also surely a factor in creating hostile climates nationwide.
For example, not long after Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, a N.C. pastor took to the pulpit to declare that lesbians and gay men should be exterminated.
“Build a great, big, large fence – 150 or 100 miles long – put all the lesbians in there,” Charles L. Worley, pastor of a Baptist church in Maiden, N.C. said. “Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out … and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out … do you know why? They can’t reproduce!” See The Huffington Post’s report on Worley’s rant.
The First Amendment protects loons like Worley from government suppression of speech. But as the HRC report shows there is a need for more evolved voices in the public square. There is a need for others to level the playing field, or more importantly to make sure that communities are not overwhelmed by rhetoric from Religious Right carnival barkers.