Commentary: A Destructive Stigma

Felix Cooper, Reporter

Since the Stonewall protests, riots spearheaded by transgender women who were unfairly targeted by police for being LGBT+, society has made great strides by way of LGBT+ rights.

 Protections, support, and healthcare have finally been granted, most notably healthcare for specific afflictions common among the gay and bisexual communities and healthcare for transgender patients seeking medical transition. Despite this, hate and stigma still follow the LGBT community wherever they may go in the US, even in small towns such as Glenwood. 

The word ‘lesbian’ is often treated like an insult; The word ‘gay’ earns students a scolding regardless of the context used. Classrooms go painfully quiet when sexuality and gender are mentioned. This is, I believe, not because students are afraid to talk about it, but because most students have the luxury of forgetting to consider how those who differ from the ‘norm’ feel.

When I walk the hallways of the Glenwood High School, I hear students say some pretty awful things to each other. Homophobic slurs are popular among the underclassmen, especially the F-slur, used to deride gay and bisexual men. Transphobic slurs such as ‘shemale,’ ‘trap,’ and ‘tranny’ are used to make transgender people the butt of hateful jokes and punchlines. 

I, personally, have heard all these slurs and more since my freshman year of high school. When I first came out as transgender, I was followed by whispered threats and ‘joking’ talk of violence against me by my own peers. The school ceased to be a place of safety for months. When the novelty of having a transgender peer wore off, so did the jokes, but the subtle discrimination remained. Even today, I know there are fellow students who still think of me as ‘sick’ for who I am. Many of these teens have the privilege to not think about how their jokes impact others.

Members of the community are safer today than ever, but that does not mean LGBT+ people are safe. According to Wikipedia and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), each year since 1960 has had at least one national headline depicting the assault or brutal murder of an LGBT+ person. In the 2010s, there have been about three per year.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes against LGBT+ people have increased almost 6% in the past year alone, rising from 7,100 reports in 2017 to more than 7,900 in 2018. Since reporting hate crimes to the FBI is not mandatory, it is likely there are thousands more that go unreported. There has been a 42% increase in anti-transgender hate crimes specifically, ranging from petty assault to murder. 

It’s not just a social phenomenon; even the current government administration is keen on removing the rights of LGBT+ people. Under the Trump administration beginning in 2016, at least 30 Obama-Era and older policies protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination in dozens of ways were rolled back. More than half of those repealed laws protected transgender citizens: Laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression for needs such as housing, employment, healthcare and financial aid are now null; and civil rights protections have been minimized or removed all together. 

Other repealed protections for the poor, such as Medicaid restrictions and open housing discrimination, quietly target homeless LGBT+ adults, who make up over 40% of the homeless population in the US. Alongside them, according to the Williams Institute, are over 400,000 LGBT+ youth who are kicked out of their homes for their gender or sexuality annually. 

Petty jokes, the kind made by high schoolers who don’t know any better, make the mistreatment worse. Though it may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to truly harsh acts of hate, every drop has a ripple of its own that can touch every possible shore and spread the ocean’s reach just a little farther. Jokes about dead transgender people are heard by few others who already had violent thoughts about the LGBT+ community and register it as encouragement. It only takes a nudge for a joke to become a reality.

Teens cannot be assumed to be free from prejudice and neither can adults who work with those teens. The small population of open LGBT+ students at Glenwood High School is likely to stay small as the slurs and jokes go undetected or ignored by staff. The ‘Rams United’ attitude unfortunately leaves out these students, who often fear they can not be open about their gender or sexuality without becoming a target and perhaps even endangering their lives.

As one of maybe 5-10 openly LGBT+ teens in Glenwood High School, I must draw attention to the lack of care and acknowledgement of my peers’ experience. It is the job of all generations to fight for theirs and the next students’ futures; I intend to deliver in that. 

Teachers, please pay attention to what happens in the little exchanges students have. Learn the slurs that students throw around and correct them. Be an ally for any student whom you know is LGBT+.

 Students, enough with the slurs: you know what they are, how they are used, and how you are using them. No one is buying the ‘alternate meaning’ excuse. Everyone around you knows you are never talking about a bundle of sticks or british cigarette when you use the ‘F’ slur. 

No matter how far we think we’ve come in accepting our differences, removing the stigma, and supporting LGBT+ children and adults, the journey is nowhere near complete. You can do your part by supporting others and condemning slurs. After all, it is easier to love than it is to hate.