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GLAAD

LGBTQ youth share their stories, offer advice to adults to end bullying

October 18, 2018

Although June is often heralded as the LGBTQ community's biggest month, October holds a place our hearts as a critically important month for our community. Beyond honoring LGBTQ History Month and National Coming Out Day, our communtiy takes action for National Bullying Prevention Month and Spirit Day to combat the staggering levels of verbal and physical harrassment faced by youth.

Click here to take the pledge to stand against bullying

Bullying is a pervasive problem in the LGBTQ community with over 87% of youth reporting being bullied. When 59% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, we must require ourselves as fellow community members and allies to take action. 

If you want to combat bullying and make a difference in your community, look to the young people who have faced and are facing bullying to learn what they wish the parents, educators, and other adults in their lives would do to support them and end bullying.

Daniel Segobiano

University of California Santa Cruz

My story: I’m a femme, gay man and since kindergarten I’ve always felt accepted by my friends. But appreciation of my outward expression didn’t reach far past my small friend group. I was bullied for being ‘too femme’ and to avoid being teased I’d deepen my voice around others. In P.E. I’d always be told that I “played like a girl” or that I was not good enough to play with the other boys because I was “too gay.” I was always being labeled as ‘too girly’ for being around so many women and also shunned from masculine groups because no one wanted to be hit on by a ‘gay boy.’ To the other boys, my mannerisms were a sort of oddity that they hoped wouldn’t catch on. Even my father advised me to “act more like a man” rather than more like myself.

Advice to adults: Normalize gender as being a spectrum. Normalize introducing yourself with pronouns. Normalize LGBTQ+ identities. Bring more representation into your classrooms or communities and make sure you’re aware of the resources available to your queer/trans identifying students. You don’t always need to have the answer, but failing to at least address the issue is not okay. Complacency only continues the perpetual cycle of bullying LGBTQ+ folk’s experience. Believe your students and children.

Athena Schwartz

University of Utah

My story: In elementary school, I never fit in with just girls or just boys. I was never femme enough to fit in with the girls and I was never masc enough to hang out with the guys. For most of my elementary school years, people always hung out with their gendered groups. I often found myself alone, and when I would try to fit in with others I would be made fun of. I remember for my seventh birthday, some girl gave me a "Thomas the Train" toy and told me she got that for me because that's what boys like. I cried and cried to my mom because I wasn't a boy. I had always known that I wasn't a girl either, but I didn't know what I was until high school. Even when I came out as nonbinary, I still faced being bullied for not being 'normal.' I’ve never fit in the norm and I’m still working on fully understanding that it’s ok.

Advice to adults: My advice to educators and to parents who want to combat bullying in schools and communities is to believe people who say they are being bullied. Learn about the signs of someone who is being bullied. Some people may not just come up and say that they are being bullied. Bullying can happen outside of school too and at many different points in life. Remind LGBTQ youth that they are not alone. Be honest about bullying. Don’t simply say to just ignore it or it will just go away. If you are comfortable (and it applies to you) say that you remember what it was liked to feel bullied. Be vulnerable. Have a conversation with them and ask how you can support them. As someone who was bullied and felt alone, all I wanted was someone to connect to.

Parker Reyes

Texas Tech University

Advice to adults: Social support structures are imperative to the success of LGBTQ youth as well as helping them foster a healthy sense of self. Educators and parents need to remember that LGBTQ youth still to this day grow up surrounded by cultural images and cues that suggest to them that their identity is evil or inherently wrong. The number one thing I believe parents and educators can do to combat the bullying of LGBTQ individuals is to talk about LGBTQ issues and people in a very humanizing way. Parents and Educators are points of authority for youth and so it is their job to set the tone, expectations and acceptable behavior pertaining to the humane and ethical treatment of these student’s queer peers. Setting the tone and combating the negative social narratives about LGBTQ people is how educators and parents can create more inclusive and equitable spaces for LGBTQ youth.

Shannon Li

University of Michigan

Advice to adults: My advice to parents and educators who want to combat bullying in schools/communities is to get students involved in the school’s anti-bullying programs, if it is implemented. If not, start it! Integrating anti-bullying initiatives into the curriculum will teach kids at an early age the harms and impacts of bullying, and why they should not bully. Educating students about the importance of a support network and community will teach them to value each other and support one another during difficult times. Examples include empowering students to take action and appropriately respond to inappropriate behaviors. Reinforcing school values is important for preventing unacceptable behaviors, and hopefully, parents and educators around the world takes action in preventing bullying.

AJ Lawrence

Berkelee College of Music

My story: I went to a very small high school in Kansas. I was one of maybe three people of color so racism in small talk and bullying were more in reference in conversation. People saying “you’re the whitest black kid I know,” and other things like that. That talk went on from middle school until I graduated high school. I honestly didn’t know it was bullying until I got to college and learned from experience that people don’t say that unless they’re being backhanded.

Advice to adults: Listen closely to what your child/pupil says. Be an ally and a parent to them. They are looking for someone to help them validate that their pain is real and they reaching out for a solution. Help them out and take them seriously.

Tae Johnson

Prairie View A&M University

My story: I first experienced bullying when I was in elementary school, but the most extreme point was when I reached Middle school. I used to get verbally and physically harassed every day to the point I hated waking up in the morning & I seriously battled with finding the strength to continue living. As a child that was something I was never prepared for and it was something that kept me going because I knew at a young age if I made it through that point of my life I’d be able to help kids like myself in the future.

Advice to adults: My advice to parent and educators of LGBTQ youth is that your acknowledgment is important. Your words of encouragement are everything! If you are an educator please understand that your role in the life of a child is important. If you notice a change in your child or a child’s personality please reach out to them. If you notice that a child is getting picked on please step in and help them, but that help isn’t limited to that particular situation. Ask them how their day is going, just reach out and be a confidant. Emotional support is critical for LGBTQ youth in the education system.

Orion Ibert

University of Houston

My story: I remember being in a college prep class where we were going over preparing arguments and the topic this time was whether LGBTQ+ folks should be able to get married. I was technically out at the time, but two other students outed themselves through the debate, causing the three of us to have to defend our own identities against five other students. I had never felt so invalidated, and the teacher did nothing to stop the conversation until I started crying. Allowing the debate to even happen created a vacuum of bigotry that severely divided the classroom and made queer students feel forced to come out in an unsafe space. In response, I was able to band together with my allied classmates to create LGBTQ+ bullying awareness events and workshops for our teachers.

Advice to adults: When creating assignments or activities, look at the type of issue you’re addressing in those classes and consider how those issues impact your students from marginalized communities. Although there are several hot topics that your students and community will always be separated on, you have a responsibility to keep these discussions civil, respectful, and shut down anything that breaches that rule, even if it is disguised as something respectful.

Talk to your communities about the importance of respecting--not just tolerating--the experiences and voices of marginalized communities. If you want to make a change for the better and create spaces where bullying is eradicated, it starts with YOU shutting bullying down in the spaces you have power. You have to speak up to shut bullying down.

Nicole Gemmiti

Berkelee College of Music

My story: I was harassed several times by men I didn’t know who had hit on me from the comfort of their social media profiles, after I turned them down because I’m gay. This was often due to the fact that they were offended that I was feminine-presenting, like it was a way of leading them on to not “look” or “act” like a lesbian. While it was only verbal abuse online, I sometimes got violent threats that made me fear for my personal safety.

Advice to adults: My main advice to educators and parents who are trying to stop this epidemic is to take any sort of bullying, harassment, or verbal abuse very seriously. Just because something may seem like it’s just taunting, or not a “huge deal”, you shouldn’t just avoid it and hope it blows over. This kind of treatment of LGBTQ+ youth leads to larger, more serious things as it constantly progresses, such as higher rates of mental illness among that demographic. Guardians of these youth have to take action, otherwise it’ll never end. Take LGBTQ+ youth very seriously in order to avoid more severe problems down the line by nipping it in the bud as quickly as possible, and make sure to teach acceptance and tolerance to bullies and harassers.

Ce-Lai Fong

University of California Santa Cruz

My story: From a very early age, I knew that I didn’t like “girly” things. I kept my hair short, I played exclusively with boys, and I didn’t care that I stuck out like a sore thumb in my traditional town. However, due to my differences I was a frequent target of bullies from kindergarten all the way until high school. The bullying ranged from the more benign acts of teasing me and taking my lunch, to physical acts of aggression which consisted of shoves, pushes, and getting jumped and beaten up in the locker rooms.

Advice to adults: My biggest regret is never telling my parents or teachers I was being bullied because I was afraid that they would find out the reasons for me being bullied. I didn’t want to put myself. It’s also one of my parent’s biggest regrets that they weren’t able to help me through one of the toughest times of my life. I would ask those parents and teachers that would be heartbroken if a child they love was being bullied to always keep their ears listening, their minds open, and their hearts full.

Harold Daniel

Florida International University

My story: I feared going to school throughout my elementary and middle school years. Being mocked for my feminine mannerisms affected my mental health. I was called names, names that I didn't know the meaning of at the time. Meanwhile, I had my parents back at home telling me to act more masculine--in a Hispanic household, it was difficult for me growing up. It was a scary time having to hide who I really am to avoid the continued harassment, both at home and in school.

Advice to adults: Talk to your kids. Make them feel comfortable reaching out to you, because without that connection, you will not know what they are going through. Teach them how to spread kindness and compassion. It all begins at home and in the classroom. Education is the key to understanding differences. Get involved in your child's life at school, speak to the educators. Without your support and your stand against bullying, we can prevent this. 

Jayson Bijak

University of Houston

My story: I’ve been called names by students and teachers since first grade for being trans, before I even knew what being trans meant. I’ve even been told to find a new career because being a trans educator is “inappropriate.”

Advice to adults: My advice is to be an active ally to your LGB, and especially trans, students. Educate yourself before you say anything inappropriate and encourage others to do the same.

Ose Arheghan

Ohio State University

Advice to adults: My advice to parents and educators is to educate themselves on LGBTQ issues so they don't project their ignorance and implicit bias onto our queer youth. In my experience, people assumed the way I identified, my mannerism, and my beliefs were incorrect because they didn't understand them. So much of the negativity I experienced when I was younger could've been avoided with education and tolerance.

About Spirit Day

Each year, millions go purple for GLAAD’s Spirit Day to support LGBTQ youth in a united stand against bullying. Spirit Day draws the participation of celebrities, schools, faith institutions, national landmarks, corporations, media outlets, sports leagues, and advocates around the world, all joining together to stand against bullying and support LGBTQ youth. Take the Spirit Day pledge to show LGBTQ youth you've got their backs at glaad.org/spiritday. Follow @GLAAD on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to follow all the #SpiritDay action.

Clare Kenny is the Director of Youth Engagement at GLAAD. She leads GLAAD's Campus Ambassador Program, Rising Stars Grants Program, and amp series. Clare is a graduate of Skidmore College.

the voice and vision of a new generation