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Our queer youth are vulnerable, let’s protect them

May 3rd,2023 | Opinion

When D’Arcy McGee ethics teacher Danielle Jepson revealed that 60 per cent of Grade 11 students identified as being somewhere within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, it spoke to a major shift we are seeing in our demographics.

Across the country, there are approximately 1 million youth aged 15 and older who identify as LGBTQIA+, according to Stats Canada. Close to one-third of Canada’s queer community is under the age of 25.

But as more and more youth come out to openly identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, compassion and empathy for these communities are dwindling, which is creating a recipe for disaster. In some places, the ingredients are already being mixed up in the bowl.

A 2019 Stats Canada report revealed that seven out of 10 youth aged 15 to 17 reported experiencing some form of bullying. Among them, however, gender-diverse youth were identified as the most vulnerable, with 77 per cent experiencing bullying compared to 69 per cent of kids who are exclusively attracted to a different gender. The study also revealed that close to 10 per cent of transgender, non-binary, and youth with same-gender attraction experienced two or more incidents of bullying on a weekly or daily basis compared to 5.6 per cent of youth with exclusive different-gender attraction.

And to make things worse, kids are getting meaner.

According to a new U.K. study by Canadian researcher Kaitlynn Mendes, the increased use of technology during the pandemic has led to more online bullying and harassment from youth between the ages of 13 and 18.

The cause, according to the study, is a lack of human connection – facial expressions, touch, eye contact and voice intonations – that kids don’t get when they are chatting over Snapchat.

When we look at these stats, it’s not that surprising that we are starting to see issues happen locally. A Pride flag was taken down and destroyed at St. Michael’s High School in Low last week and students have reported hearing homophobic and transphobic slurs in the hallways. A Pride mural was firebombed at D’Arcy McGee last summer.

The connection seems clear: more screen time = less inclusive and meaner kids. We all know how we got here. What’s important, though, is how we move forward. The pandemic was hard on both parents and kids and it’s no surprise that screen time has gone up during the past two years. But in light of these new findings, it’s clear that we all need to get back to the things that make us human. We need to talk more. We need physical contact and to look one another in the eye. We need to feel what others are feeling and respond with compassion and love. We need to be allies for those within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community by standing against hate everywhere we see it. That means every time someone uses the f-slur slur or uses the word “gay” as an insult.

More and more of our youth are becoming vulnerable. It’s our job to protect them.

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