Exactly a decade ago, a range of widely publicized suicides of queer students brought attention to the issues often faced by LGBTQ+ youth, including the death of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old college student who took his own life in 2010 after his roommate secretly recorded him being physically intimate with another man.
The deaths of Clementi and Lawrence King, a 15-year-old Black, gay student shot and killed by a classmate, helped spark the creation of the “It Gets Better” project, in which LGBTQ+ people and allies spread messages of encouragement for queer and trans youth who may be struggling. The same year, Brittany McMillan, a Canadian teenager, launched the first Spirit Day, an annual day of awareness to support LGBTQ+ youth and take a stand against bullying.
What was initially a small observance quickly went viral after it was promoted by the LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD, which has partnered with numerous celebrities, companies, and media outlets in the years since to wear purple to show their support for LGBTQ+ youth. Both the name for the event and the color associated with it are derived from the purple stripe on the Pride flag created in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, who defined the hue as “representing spirit.”
GLAAD marked the event’s 10th anniversary on Thursday as it always does: by turning its Twitter account a beautiful shade of violet.
Throughout the day, the nonprofit shared stories illustrating that bullying remains extremely prevalent in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth — even a decade on.
In 2019, GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey revealed that 86% of LGBTQ+ students were harassed or assaulted at school, with 2 in 5 of LGBTQ+ students of color having been bullied based on their race or ethnicity. The study also revealed that 84% of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender, and one-third of LGBTQ+ students missed at least one day of school within the past month due to feeling unsafe. One-fifth of LGBTQ+ students reported having changed schools due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
But one novel aspect of the 10th anniversary of Spirit Day, however, is that Tyler Clementi’s mother, Jane, is spearheading a letter-writing campaign to leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. She recently told NBC News that upon reading her son’s personal writings, she learned that he experienced a great deal of exclusion and isolation from his faith community, which weighed heavy on him.
“He was obviously in a lot of pain and suffering loneliness and much of that was because of the teachings he had been hearing,” she said. “I do think that having messages of condemnation that illicit those feelings of shame or fear even is a form of bullying and that is why we need to stop it.”
Jane Clementi added that the letter campaign is about “creating safer spaces for those in the LGBTQ community” and also preventing “straight youth” from using anti-LGBTQ+ messages to “harm other people.”
Numerous LGBTQ+ celebrities joined Jane Clementi and GLAAD on Thursday to take a stand against bullying and envision a better world for youth everywhere.
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