Queer teens need more than anti-bullying statutes

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On October 20, 2010, offices, classrooms, and social media profiles around the world became awash in the color purple, the stripe of LGBTQ+ pride flag associated with “spirit.” It was the first observance of Spirit Day, the now-official LGBTQ+ holiday devoted to anti-bullying advocacy. But before the spirit of Spirit Day moved millions to voice their support for queer youth, it moved a high school sophomore from Vancouver to speak out. Her name was Brittany McMillan, and it was her viral Tumblr post decrying the homophobic bullying that influenced the suicides of five teens across the country that inspired the international event we recognize today.

Nearly a decade since McMillan’s original call to action, Spirit Day has become a global phenomenon, with participants from Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown to drag queen Peppermint to queer icon Paula Abdul joining LGBTQ+ community members and allies in offering empathy and support to LGBTQ+ youth who have experienced bullying. Yet perhaps the most stirring take from this year’s Spirit Day so far has come from Pose star Angelica Ross. “We all need to take a stand against all forms of bullying. But we have to go beyond just turning our profile pictures purple,” she told GLAAD. “I see a lot of folks out there giving us lip service.”

Spirit Day may be bigger than ever, but as Ross suggests, queer and transphobic bullying is as prevalent as ever, too — and calls to action may not be enough to curtail it. While events like Spirit Day are no doubt essential for spreading awareness, it’s going to take both structural, state-level legal reforms and school-by-school policy changes to curb LGBTQ+ youth bullying. Recent studies have shown that neither on their own will be enough.

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