24 September 2012

PFLAG On LGBT Students

In the month of September, we hear and read much about education and young people.

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)-New York City has published some remarkable data on both.  In particular, I was struck by the following:  

  • "LGBT students are twice as likely to say that they were not planning on completing high school or going to college."
  • "Gay teens are 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide and 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection."
  • "Nearly a fifth of students are physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and a tenth because of their gender identity."
  • "About two thirds of LGBT students report having ever been sexually harassed (e.g., sexual remarks made, being touched inappropriately) in school in the past year."
It's hard not to see that the last two items are causes of the first two.  Why would someone willingly go to a school, or other any place, where he or she has been beaten up or sexually harassed, or faces the prospect of experiencing one or both?

I myself finished high school only because my parents wouldn't allow me not to.  That was one of the rules they had for me and my brothers:  We had to finish high school.  I graduated with a pretty high class ranking, but I can't help but to think about how much better I might have done had I felt safer, and therefore more motivated, in school.  

Now, I didn't announce my gender identity or sexuality in school, mainly because I didn't have the language for either--and, truthfully, almost nobody in that place and time had it, either.  Still, most of the boys in my school knew that somehow I wasn't quite one of them.  They projected their lurid fantasies (which, of course, were not in any way informed by reality) about what it meant to be gay or a "boy/girl" onto me. 

I did the best I could at "laying low" and got through most days without incident.  Even so, I could always feel the hormonal hostility in the air of the school hallways and the field where we had gym classes and soccer practice.  And, of course, the locker room was pure terror and torture.  I don't think I was ever again as afraid--or disgusted--as I was there.

Somehow I graduated.  Then I went onto college.  Living on campus wasn't any better, really.  There was just as much hormone-fueled bullying there.  The difference was that those conflagrations had another, equally potent fuel:  alcohol.   I very nearly flunked out after my freshman year.   

Back in those days, though, most of us didn't talk about such things, except with each other.  That is, if we decided to out ourselves.  More of us just "soldiered onward" or dropped out, saying that the schools we attended "weren't quite right" for us.

And I know of some who committed suicide, whether in the ways we normally think of, or in slow-motion (e.g., with drugs and alcohol).  

Today, there are organizations like PFLAG and people with whom LGBT students can talk.  And more of them talk openly to each other.  However, they still face the same threats we faced in my youth.  I hope that, one day, such will no longer be the case.