In an effort to better understand the current generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teenagers, the New York Times has launched an interactive feature that allows these young people to speak in their own voices entitled “Coming Out.” As the Times wrote in part:
The Times spoke with or e-mailed nearly 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender teenagers from all of parts of the country — from rural areas to urban centers, from supportive environments to hostile ones. The newspaper contacted them through various advocacy groups, as well as through social networking sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
…In the face of competing messages, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths just want to be teenagers. While they envision a world where they can get married and have doors open to them, they do not want to be defined by their sexuality, regardless of how they are received by their community. It is just one part of their identity.
In addition to the very moving audio and written testimonials, readers are invited to share their own stories, including in the form of short YouTube videos.
The featured young people are brave and inspiring and leave me with no doubt that LGBT people will achieve full equality under the law during their lifetimes. Part of the reason for this success is the result of their willingness to speak their most basic truth by saying simply, “This is part of who I am.”
Despite the remarkable gains LGBT people have achieved in recent years, LGBT youth remain particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment at school. In GLSEN’s 2009 study of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students, the National School Climate Survey, nine out of10 LGBT students reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly one third skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety.
No federal law explicitly protects students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have sponsored legislation in Congress that could finally fill this gap in our civil rights laws — the Student Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination, including harassment, in K-12 public schools based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, providing LGBT students with long overdue and much needed explicit federal protections. The legislation also protects students who associate with LGBT people, including students with LGBT parents and friends. Congress should pass this very important legislation to ensure that all of America’s children have access to a safe and supportive learning environment.