The Kids Are Not Alright – The Plight of African American LGBT Youth in America's Schools

Published: September 8, 2011

“Back to school” signs have been hanging in store windows for weeks now. For some children the beginning of a new school year is marked with anticipation and excitement—to see friends and tackle a new year of learning. But if you’re a student who is (or is perceived to be) gay or gender nonconforming, that excitement turns to fear and anxiety because of the bullying you will endure day in and day out for the next nine months.*

In the past year or so, media attention rose surrounding the suicides of youth who were or were perceived to be gay or transgender. It is difficult to determine why someone chooses to attempt suicide but many of the youth who died were bullied and harassed in their schools. The media attention peaked about a year ago, when within a three-week period, five gay or gender-nonconforming teens died by suicide, each case adding to a sense of urgency around the problem of bullying in our nation’s schools.

What was just as disconcerting, however, was whom the media was primarily covering: white youth. In fact, several African American students took their lives around the highly publicized time—most notably Carl Hoover Walker, who was only 11 years old. Unfortunately, the stories of African American youth didn’t make the news cycle despite the fact that research shows it is African American gay or gender-nonconforming youth who face some of the most hostile treatment in our nation’s schools.

“Faggot,” “dyke,” and “gay” (used in a derogatory manner) are just a few of the negative insults that 85 percent of black LGBT students say they hear daily in the hallway at school. Another 47 percent of these students also hear racist insults during an average school day.

Taken together, the numbers suggest that it is likely rare for a day to go by when a black LGBT student is not verbally harassed—or worse—by their peers. The self-esteem of teens is fragile enough without the constant degradation and fear of violence regularly forced upon them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, or their race.

How can a student concentrate on an exam when they fear for their safety? Simply put, they can’t.

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