Health Hero: Amplifying the Voices of Black LGBT Youth

This Spirit Day, GLAAD’s Tiq Milan wants you to be the agent of change.

With everyone going purple as of late, you might be asking, “What’s going on?”

It’s simple: It’s Spirit Day!

Started in 2010 by teen Brittney McMillan to raise awareness around the rash of LGBT suicides, GLAAD adopted this day as a means to support all LGBT youth and to take a stand against bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Millions around the country, including NBC, MTV, ABC, WWE, Laverne Cox and the cast of Orange Is the New Black, Ebony, the cast of Fox’s Empire and everyday folks, are taking a stand to say enough is enough when it comes to LGBT bullying in our schools.

But before you pawn this off as not our issue: Black LGBT kids are subject to even more extreme bias and mistreatment in our school system.

Kids of color are more vulnerable, according to Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). More than 75 percent reported being 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. Also, 85 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. sat down with Tiq Milan, GLAAD’s senior media strategist, to talk about how LGBT bullying affects Black children and teens, how being a Black trans man impacts this activism and what we all can do NOW to stop bullying in our community. Why does LGBT bullying matter to Black communities?

Tiq Milan: Along with the stats that show that Black LGBT students are at an increased risk for bullying and violence, it’s important to point out that Black LGBT students are bullied for a range of reasons as our identities are interconnected. So we are dealing with being bullied for our race, gender, sexual orientation and gender expression.

And for these students navigating the school system, they have very little support. And not just at school, but in places where young people should feel safe such as at home, among family members, parents, trusted adults and most importantly at church.

This complexity of abuse needs to be part of a larger conversation about how to address the specific needs of Black LGBT youth. It’s a multifaceted conversation that deserves a nuanced approach. 

What do you hope that Spirit Day can do in our community?

By raising awareness, we hope that these much-needed conversations will begin to happen in spaces where they are so desperately needed. Especially what it means to be a bully and the repercussions that exist for those who are on the receiving end of being bullied.

Being a Black trans man, why is this work important?

It means a lot.

Over the years, it's clear that African-American and Caribbean LGBT youth have a different experience. I've seen so many young people, marginally housed and homeless, especially from the South, who come to places like New York, leaving their families behind because this is the only place they believe they will be accepted.

And that quest for acceptance to be around others like them occurs even if sex work and living on the streets is the end result, because in their eyes that's better than staying in homes and schools that demean and harass them for being who they are. 

So to be part of this conversation is incredibly important and historic, especially speaking to Black people as a Black trans man about our specific issues, given that Black trans folks are the forefront of LGBT equality right now. 

What can Black LGBT youth and friends to the LGBT community do on Spirit Day and beyond?

Especially beyond wearing purple on October 16, it’s important for Black LGBT youth and their allies to hold themselves and others accountable.

So when we hear someone misgender a trans person or call them a derogatory name, we correct them. When we hear bias happening against LGBT folks, we let folks know that to judge someone based on sexual orientation and gender expression is just plain wrong. And from there, hopefully we will start to see a snowball-effect happening in our community. 

For our Black LGBT youth that is currently experiencing bullying, what is your advice for them?

To know that you are not alone. I know it may feel like that, but it's not true. Also, seek support in people you trust and use social media as a means to build and create community. Before the Internet, I didn’t know there were other trans men out there, and my world changed once I found that community.

But most important, no matter how hard it is right now, it always gets better. Trust and believe that. 

Learn more about Spirit Day and what you can do to be an ally here.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.  

(Photo: Courtesy of Tiq Milan)

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