Today, October 15, is Spirit Day, GLAAD'S annual holiday to encourage allies to speak out against bullying and stand with LGBTQ youth. Organizations across the country, along with celebrities like Cher, Halle Berry, and JoJo are posting purple and wearing purple to make it clear that they have zero tolerance for anti-LGBTQ bullying.
"From the effects of COVID-19, to the social uprising against racial injustice and police brutality, to the Trump administration’s consistent attacks on LGBTQ people, this year has presented unprecedented challenges and crises, all of which continue to uniquely and disproportionately impact LGBTQ youth," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a press release. "At a time when LGBTQ youth may be isolating in homes that are not affirming or do not have access to their usual support systems, this year’s Spirit Day is a chance for LGBTQ people and allies to send messages of acceptance and support to LGBTQ youth when they need it most."
According to GLSEN's 2015 National School Climate Study, 85.2% of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed and 48.6% reported experiencing cyberbullying. And bullying can have serious consequences: LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual youth, and bullying is often one of the main reasons, said Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ young people.
"I think we're starting to put together a picture of the factors that place LGBT youth at greater risk for suicide," Amy Green, PhD, director of research at The Trevor Project, previously told Refinery29. "We know that there's no one risk factor that causes an individual to attempt suicide, and there's also not going to be one factor that will prevent it. We need to invest in policies and programs and practices that support LGBTQ youth, and each one of us can do something to show youth that they are valued and that they are supported."
That could be something as simple as telling someone, 'I see you, I accept you, I support you, I care.' Green says that the simple act of telling someone that you accept them, that you care, can really make a big difference.
Spirit Day was founded in 2010 as a response to LGBTQ suicides, but you can stand up to harassment and support the community any day. Not sure where to start? Here's how to be an ally and safely stop bullying when you see it.
If you are an LGBTQ person thinking about suicide, please call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.
Being an effective ally requires more than just adding a purple filter to your social media images. "An ally is anyone who makes an effort to learn about the issues that the LGBTQ community faces ... and then takes action and makes it clearly visible that they're there to support the entire LGBTQ community," Bolles says.
It's especially important to learn about the intersectionality of marginalized identities that affect LGBTQ people of color. Do your research and really take to heart what you're supporting. Both GLAAD and the Trevor Project have great resources on their sites.
If you witness bullying in person, be an active bystander and take steps to deescalate the situation. The best way to intervene is to safely remove the person being bullied from the situation, if possible, Bolles says. Get them to a place where you both will be away from harm. Try not to engage the bully verbally or physically.
If you're a student and witness LGBTQ bullying, find a teacher, administrator, or other trusted adult who will address the problem. "A lot of LGBTQ youth report that they don't report the bullying they experience to a teacher or the administration because they don't think anyone will help," Bolles says. As an ally, seek out someone that will take action against bullying. That may not be the first person you report it to, but keep pushing for change.
The most effective way to combat online bullying is to report the posts as soon as you see them, Bolles says. Encourage the person being bullied to do the same, and then hide and block any posts or people contributing to the negativity.
After witnessing an act of bullying, you may be searching for the right thing to say to the person who was bullied. Instead, listen to what they have to say and validate their emotions. Use this as an opportunity to learn more about the issues that LGBTQ people face daily.
"Your LGBTQ friends are going to be your best resource for learning about the community and also about their own personal experiences," Bolles says. "Listen to them with an open heart, a willingness to learn, and the knowledge that some of your preconceived notions might be challenged.
Be an ally by not only standing up to LGBTQ bullying in your school or community, but also politically. "At the Trevor Project we've seen a dramatic increase of LGBTQ young people reaching out to us because of this political climate," Paley says. Allies can counteract hateful rhetoric and discrimination by contacting their legislators to demand policies that protect LGBTQ people on issues like bathroom laws and conversion therapy. The Trevor Project offers information about specific policies, as well as sample letters to lawmakers, if you're not sure how to get started.
A great way to be proactive against bullying is to publicly show your support for the LGBTQ community. Signing GLAAD'S pledge against bullying and going purple on social media for Spirit Day is a great way to bring visibility to the issues, Bolles says. But you can show support every day by raising awareness about the problem of LGBTQ bullying and helping others to become allies as well.
"When you're an ally, you speak up, and you let people know that they have nothing to be ashamed of for being who they are or loving who they love," Paley says. Send affirming messages and remind your LGBTQ friends that they're never alone.