Today's Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage will impact the LGBT community far beyond simply the right to wed. As a safe-schools researcher and advocate, I believe it is critical to point out the impact that these rulings will have on students who identify as or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), or who have parents who are LGBT.
Many incidents of bullying and harassment are based on perceived difference, where those afforded power by their difference exploit it against the "other." This is especially true for LGBT youth, who are told they are different not only by their peers, but by laws that strip them of basic rights, privileges, and power. Youth perceive their LGBT peers as different and less powerful because these statuses are engrained in the very fabric of our political society.
But, as these laws fall, the culture of bullying for LGBT youth will also change. We've already started to see these changes with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Despite the fears of critics, our armed forces are thriving and LGB service members are able to defend our nation without being shamed into silence. LGB youth who dream of serving their country now have role models to admire, although we still have work to do for soldiers and youth who are transgender.
Today's ruling that two individuals of the same-sex who marry are entitled to the same federal benefits as those who are in heterosexual relationships helps reaffirm to LGBT youth that they are valued, they are equal, and that they have the same rights as anyone else. It says to those who view LGBT youth as different that our political system will no longer endorse or condone their prejudice.
Though we still have a long way to go -- today's court rulings only apply to those states that already affirm the rights of lesbian and gay individuals -- the United States' progress towards recognizing the humanity of all individuals should give hope to those LGBT students who face discrimination, bias, and bullying on a daily basis.
Of course, just because our society has become more accepting of LGBT individuals does not lessen the importance of strategic and systematic prevention efforts to ensure safe climates for all students, both those who are LGBT and those who are different in other ways. In a way, it makes it all the more critical to ensure that this next generation continues the momentum for equality.