Commentary: Why Spirit Day Matters to Black LGBT Youth

African-American LGBT students face harsh bullying in school. 

Posted: 10/16/2013 11:37 PM EDT

Do you know what Spirit Day is?

Started by Brittany McMillan as a response to the young people who had taken their own lives and adopted by Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), this day celebrates gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and takes a stand against LGBT bullying in schools. By wearing lavender — albeit your shirt, tie, shoelaces, etc. — you make it clear that you have zero for intolerance and harassment.

And just know that if you do rock the lavender, you are not alone.

Millions around the nation will join you, including celebs and media outlets. According to E! Online, Nene Leakes, Nick Cannon, Kim Kardashian and Laverne Cox have signed on. Not to mention, Clear Media Channel, OWN, NBC, Good Morning America, MSNBC, The View, CBS, MTV and Facebook will all spread the word, too.

And while mainstream media doesn’t do the best job of diversifying the complex issue of LGBT bullying in U.S. schools and LGBT suicide, let me be crystal clear: LGBT bullying is a serious and persistent problem that grossly impacts Black LGBT youth.

No, our kids are not all right and we can longer ignore this problem.

Past data has found that Black LGBT youth are extremely vulnerable to harassment, ill treatment and mental health issues. 

past report conducted by the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that kids of color are more vulnerable and impacted in numerous ways. More than 75 percent were called “f----t” and “d--e” on a regular basis; more than 70 percent heard sexist remarks; and almost 50 percent heard racist remarks at school.

According that same GLSEN report, Black LGBT students receive some of the most hostile treatment in our nation’s school systems. Eighty-five percent of Black LGBT students said they hear homophobic remarks; only half of Black students feel safe at school; and only 38 percent report these incidents to teachers.

And what we know is that our LGBT youth has less of a support system within schools.

Only 18 percent of LGBT students report that their school has an anti-LGBT bullying policy in effect. Not to mention, in some cases it’s the teachers and faculty who are doing the bullying. Also, Black LGBT students, especially those who attend schools with mostly Black students, are less likely to have affirming programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). And that’s really sad, given that these types of programs help Black LGBT students feel more empowered and more adjusted at school, which in turn play into better grades and higher graduation rates.

Speaking of grades, LGBT students of color who are bullied have GPAs .5 points lower than students who are not bullied. Also, to avoid being bullied, students will just stay home instead of coming to school. Twenty-five percent of Black LGBT youth have missed one full day of school, compared to 6.3 percent of all Black youth and 3.5 percent of all white youth.

And so it’s obvious, we have to do better to protect our young people from this type of treatment, because their lives and academic success depend on it. Perhaps Spirit Day can be another important reminder that all children, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, matter in this world.

And so if you are Black and LGBT, stand up. And if you are an ally, stand up, too! Demand that your voices are heard in order to make real change happen.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Learn more about being an LGBT ally here and learn more about resources for LGBT youth here.

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 (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

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