Youth on violence: Gay teens especially vulnerable to hostility

Lexington must be a safer place

August 12, 2012 

Abby Clayton

It's already a well-known fact that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are much more common targets of violence than their straight peers.

Queer young people are also up to eight times more likely to attempt suicide, up to six times as likely to suffer from severe depression, and up to three times as likely to become involved with drugs, alcohol and other forms of substance abuse — all forms of self-inflicted violence.

But how does this apply to Lexington's youth?

Lexington is actually home to a thriving queer community. Unfortunately, that community is composed mostly of adults over 21 and is hard for a teenager to infiltrate.

The Lexington Gay-Straight Alliance, run by the Gay and Lesbian Service Organization, is one of a limited number of gathering places for youth.

Walking up to the GLSO building on a Tuesday night, one is likely to see a few teens smoking outside; inside, a rag-tag group of young people and advisers can be found. And yet, against all odds, they've formed a community. It is the kind of place that Lexington needs more of; it is a place that I love going to because it is a place where I feel safe.

Some there are lucky enough to come from accepting and supportive families and communities. But many struggle with hostility and hate due to their identity. This intolerance comes from media, peers, family and even themselves in the form of internalized homophobia.

I am fortunate to have family support, and the violence and homophobia I've experienced have been limited to my own internal struggle with my identity. Many at those GSA meetings have been estranged from parents, siblings and close friends. They recount having been bullied in their schools and having suffered verbal and physical assaults.

They struggle with a host of other issues including low self-esteem, internalized homophobia and eating disorders that stem from their insecurity about their identity. Each is affected by the subtle violence that is homophobia.

One young woman's struggle with internalized homophobia was so extreme that it ended in an unplanned pregnancy.

Another young transgendered man has parents who, despite his coming out to them, still refer to him with female pronouns, as their daughter.

Despite the general accepting vibe in Lexington, these and countless others in our city suffer emotional and physical abuse as a result of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The most important step in reducing such violence is to create a safe environment. Lexington is already leaps and bounds ahead of many communities in building toward that.

Mayor Jim Gray, an openly gay public figure, is a role model to many, myself included. The Lexington branch of the GLSO is active in the community, especially with regard to youth, and Fayette County Public Schools recently voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination policy.

These things are wonderful. However, there is a fundamental flaw in the attitude many still hold toward the queer community, and that attitude is causing the disproportional amount of violence directed at the group.

I firmly believe it can change, through the education of the general population and through legislation designed to protect and further our rights.

The fight for equality will end only when violence and discrimination end. It will end only when our entire community can become a safe haven for all our youth.

Abby Clayton, 17, is entering her senior year at Sayre School. She is co-president of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance and co-editor of the literary magazine.

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