October 21 is Spirit Day, a day dedicated to visibly take a stand against the bullying of LGBTQ youth. These youth experience bullying and harassment at a rate much higher than that of their peers. 70.1% of LGBTQ students report being verbally harassed, and many students still experienced bullying online after school buildings were closed during the pandemic. Of the LGBTQ students enrolled in middle school and high school last year, 52% report that they were bullied either in-person or electronically.
At the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, our mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all. We believe in working side-by-side with our neighbors to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. We partner and collaborate with community organizations to provide programming that is inclusive and we welcome everyone, from all walks of life, through our doors. Members and students in our programs are not treated differently because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Bullying isn’t just a student-to-student issue. Adults also have an impact on the students in their care. 71% of LGBTQ students report having heard homophobic remarks from teachers and/or school staff because of their gender expression. Through programs like Y Achievers, teens are connected with adult mentors who help them prepare for college, giving them a positive adult role model they can look up to.
In our Before & After School and Summer Day Camp programs, students are allowed to pursue their interests in a safe environment. Our staff are empowered to be comfortable with themselves, which allows them to support the children in our care, too. Shade, a Youth and Family Director with the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, shares his thoughts on the importance of acceptance and how the Y plays a role in the lives of LGBTQ youth.
Additionally, 86% of LGBTQ youth said that the recent political climate has negatively impacted their well-being. When politics are so concerning to students, the Y offers a glimmer of hope through our Youth & Government program. In this program, students are given an opportunity to learn about how government works, guiding them to pursue their interest in the very democracy that creates so much tension in their own lives.
The Y is a place where students can find themselves accepted, included and celebrated. This mindset is not just wishful thinking. Youth at the Y are not only cared for, but they are included and valued. For many LGBTQ students, this is one of the only places where they may feel comfortable being themselves. Whether it’s a staff member offering a listening ear and a reassuring word or a mentor pouring into a teen who is determined to change the world we live in, the Y is proud to stand alongside our LGBTQ youth and say that we are against bullying.
“Spirit Day: Learn the Facts”. GLAAD. glaad.org/spiritday