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Silence is not Golden
By Susan Holmes

The old adage can certainly be applied to some situations, as we all know, but not for GLBTTY [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Two Spirited Youth (aboriginal term)]. Silence only reinforces homophobia (fear of those individuals who are homosexuals). It is extremely important; therefore, to examine all the ways in which homophobia exerts an influence on our communities and society as a whole. A good way to start is to reflect on how homophobia expresses itself and for this purpose it would be useful to examine the issues in our school community.

GLBTT students often feel invisible in their schools. Their invisibility is usually reinforced by heterosexism. Heterosexism is a privilege. Perhaps this term is best understood as the ability to freely date the person you wish without being teased or harassed. It is the ability to be affectionate in public without threat or punishment. It is the freedom from not having to question your normalcy, sexually and cultural. It is the sense of security provided in being able to be employed in a profession without fear of being fired. It is seeing yourself and your sexual identity reinforced in the media through advertising and information. It is working without being identified by your sexuality ( i.e. you could be a farmer, teacher, etc. without being labeled as a heterosexual farmer, or heterosexual teacher… ) It is receiving social acceptance by neighbours, colleagues, and new friends. It is the ability to freely express pain when a relationship ends and have other people recognize the validity of that pain.

Why Care? What do statistics reveal?

Suicide: Gay and Lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people. 30% of youth-completed suicides are committed by Lesbian and Gay youth annually and suicide is their leading cause of death. Canada has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world…the cognitive, emotional and social isolation, and the ongoing external and internal homophobia and resulting lack of support may lead homosexual oriented adolescents to perceive suicide as their only way out.

School Drop-Out: 28% of Gay and Lesbian high school students in a national study were seen to have dropped out of school because of harassment resulting from the sexual orientation (Remafedi, G., Pediatrics, 326- 330) In another study by the same researchers it was determined that 26% of GBLT youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts over their sexual identities.

Student Attitudes: 97% of students in public high schools report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. 45% of Gay males and 20% of Lesbians report having experienced verbal harassment and or physical violence. (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force)

Depression: In a study of depression and GLBT youth researchers found depression strikes homosexual youth four to five times more often than their non-gay peers. (Hammelman, TL, 1990) Studies also show increased drug and alcohol use.

In Prince Edward Island studies indicate that many GLBTTY leave the province in search of a community which often means moving to larger centers such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

It all adds up to a pretty grim picture for GLBT youth. Drawing attention to these hardships makes sense. In order to root out the problems of bigotry and oppression, a community requires education in order to become empowered to confront the damaging effects of homophobia. Knowledge, therefore, becomes the first step in changing attitudes and beliefs. Here in Prince Edward Island the Human Rights code was amended to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in 1998.

What you can do?

Challenge the Myths and get the facts about BGLTT people. For an example: There is a widely held perception or myth that: The Majority of Pedophiles are Gay. In reality sexual abuse of children occurs primarily within the family. Over 95 % of abuse that is reported is perpetrated by a male relative. A child is over 100 times more likely to be sexually molested by a heterosexual relative than by a homosexual. Most sexual abuse of children, which occurs outside the family structure, is committed by pedophiles who DO NOT distinguish between males or females. Girls are twice as likely to be victims.

For more information contact glbty@hotmail.com or The Stonewall Forum at cafe.utne.com.



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