Editors' note: Rebecca Haskell is a queer feminist and trans ally. She holds a master's degree in Criminology from Simon Fraser University. She currently works at the BC Society of Transition Houses. Brian Burtch is a Professor of Criminology and associate member of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada. They co-authored "Get That Freak: Homophobia and Transphobia in High Schools."
It has been a tough few weeks for LGBT communities in North America. In the past month at least six gay youth, or youth perceived to be gay, have taken their lives in the U.S.A. In Canada, a young lesbian couple in Ontario were found dead, suspected suicides, last week. News coverage of these deaths abounds, raising awareness about the devastating impact bullying can have on young people.
Still, many mainstream media outlets seem to be missing the mark, focusing on bullying in general, rather than naming the entrenched homophobic and transphobic harassment that many LGBT students encounter in schools. For many media commentators, the harassment is individualized - the result of a few bad apples rather than the logical consequence of a society where LGBT people are not recognized or, worse, vilified in media and schools.
As media outlets and school administrators try to avoid what may be seen as controversial topics, young people are listening. And sometimes silence can speak louder than words. Not only are there few positive examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in media or formal curricula, but there is little public discussion about the subtle or outright forms of discrimination and harassment directed towards LGBT people. Such absences send the message that it is not even acceptable to talk about same sex attractions and gender variance let alone to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
We believe that as a first step we need to name what really is happening. It is no coincidence that the young people who felt their lives were no longer worth living either identified or were thought to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. For every youth who takes their own life after experiences with homophobia or transphobia, there are hundreds, if not thousands more who are struggling with discrimination and harassment in the media, in their schools, and in their homes. But some are also finding ways to thrive.
Many of us not only survive, but find ways to thrive, despite experiences with homophobia and transphobia. These types of experiences, though, are rarely given attention. We all mourn the deaths of the young people who are lost to the homophobia and transhobia. We also need to take the time to celebrate those of us who are living, and even more who are living proof that we can persevere.