For the last five years, GLAAD has rallied the masses to ‘go purple’ for Spirit Day as a show of solidarity against the bullying of LGBT youth. Spirit Day began as a response to a rash of suicides in 2010, which brought unprecedented attention to the issue of anti-LGBT bullying. What started as a high schooler’s idea on Tumblr has blossomed into a large outpouring of allyship across the world, with thousands of participants from celebrities like Taraji Henson, Laverne Cox, to the NBA and every major broadcast network.
It's been documented that four out of five LGBTQ youth report being bullied; this constant antagonizing leads to depression, isolation and even suicide. Victims of bullies become anxious, insecure and cautious, suffer low self-esteem and rarely defend themselves or retaliate. LGB youth are twice as likely as their straight counterparts to attempt suicide and according to the Williams Institute on suicide attempts by trans and gender non-comforming people, 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide which far exceeds the 4.6% of the overall population. However, it's important to understand that bullying is much more than peers picking on one another. It isn't restricted to classrooms and school busses. LGBTQ youth are bullied by entire systems, faith institutions and parents. Black LGBTQ youth specifically have to contend with not only homophobia and transphobia but racialized antagonisms that are inherent in systems they have to navigate. For example, transgender people of color are six times more likely to experience violence from the police than white non-transgender folks.
There has been a steady shift in Black America from positioning the discourse on LGBTQ lives as something that is co-opted by whiteness to a broader conversation about intersecting identities, culture, and community. I hope that this change makes us more aware of the obligation we have to protect all our young people from systemic antagonizing while holding ourselves and others accountable to the ways we may engage in bulling young people and correcting it.
I've personally witnessed an exodus of gay and transgender black youth from the south and the Caribbean, many of whom had a stable home life until coming out. They were met with severe verbal and physical assault in their own homes by the people who were supposed to love them the most. Many of them kicked out of their church communities because of the fierce religiosity that is still sometimes used to justify bigotry and bullying. Our young LGBTQ people are forced to live in the streets or be marginally housed and navigate the shelter systems, which is brutal and often inadequate in places like New York City.
Let's not forget 15 year-old Larry King, a gay youth of color who, in 2008, was shot twice in the head during first period by a classmate because of his fearless flamboyance. The aftermath of this senseless murder was documented in the film Valentine Road, which illustrated the level of systemic bullying and victim blaming that is far too common; the truculent criticism and policing of gay bodies as to justify violence and antagonism. Sixth grader Carl Walker-Hoover hanged himself after being bullied and called gay by his classmates. Carl didn't self-identify as gay but the fact that the mere association pushed this child to end his own life at the tender age of 11 years old is heartbreaking. And 20 year-old Islan Nettles, was beaten to death for being a transwoman with the gall to walk down the street with her head up.
Spirit Day is a chance for all of us to stand in solidarity with our beautiful Black, queer, gay and transgender youth. This is an opportunity to show that we are ready to protect our young people and create environments that encourage them to be their best selves, not who we think they should be. This is a moment to proudly show that all of our lives matter.
Tiq Milan is GLAAD's Senior Media Strategist