By David Griffith, LGBT Elder Initiative
Across the country today, thousands of LGBTQ students and allies have taken a daylong vow of silence to call attention to the problem of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment, demonstrating the ways that LGBTQ students are victimized and silenced. The Day of Silence, sponsored by GLSEN, is a student-led national event organized in thousands of schools nationwide. Students from middle school to college take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBTQ behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBTQ students and those perceived to be LGBTQ.
Across the life course, LGBTQ people are silenced in many ways, from being forced to live in the closet to being dismissed when reporting anti-LGBTQ harassment and discrimination. According to GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, 85% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment directed at their sexual orientation or gender identity. Approximately one-third of LGBTQ students miss at least one day of school per month because they felt unsafe at school.
In later life, LGBTQ older adults are similarly silenced and discriminated against. Many LGBTQ elders go back into the closet in order to receive care without fearing discrimination and harassment. Others delay or avoid seeking medical care, homecare, or long-term care services out of a fear of how they will be treated. Those who are open about their identities in senior spaces risk anti-LGBTQ harassment and mistreatment. A profile in the New York Times from November 2016 outlines the harrowing experiences of an older lesbian in a senior living facility.
There is still a great amount of work to be done to reduce the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the lifespan. The LGBT Elder Initiative proudly stands with the courageous students demonstrating today and trying to curb the tide of anti-LGBTQ bullying, harassment and discrimination.