On October 16, I am going purple for Spirit Day, because I know that showing support for LGBT youth empowers them to construct an equal and equitable world, a world I could not have imagined growing up in a small, rural South Carolina town not all that long ago.
One significant paradox of being a teen or young adult is the impressive capacity to achieve excellence while navigating the frustrating and confusing circumstances that come with this unique time in a person's life. During this period, we are developing socially, intellectually, and physically at rates not experienced since infancy, and that we will not likely experience again at any point in our lives. The opportunity for growth is incomparable.
But for some, the teenage years can be pure hell.
When she was a teenager, writer and advocate Janet Mock said, "I don't think too much about how I do it all because I have no choice but to do it all. I think it's hard being any of us, and the only thing that makes it a bit easier is being okay with who you are." In Janet's case, before she grew to be the well-known role model she is today, she was a kid navigating life as a transgender youth of color, who worked tirelessly become the first person in her family to go to college, all the while making the decisions that would allow her to become her authentic self. Much of what kept her going, growing, and succeeding, she will tell you, were the communities in which she found support.
The ways in which "it's hard being any of us" look different for each person. Indeed, are reminded all too often of the plight of America's black youth, who face sometimes unspeakable challenges just to stay alive as they simply try to walk home to their families from school. We know that young women face sexual violence and often a system that does not bring them justice in the aftermath. Teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) come up against high rates of homelessness, bullying, social isolation and rejection, academic troubles, and health disparities. And it doesn't stop when they get older, as they are confronted with a society that too often denies them access to health care, employment protections, parental recognition, marriage equality, or even basic safety and respect.
In the midst of all life's uncertainties, we must create space that allows our youth -- especially LGBT youth -- to thrive so that they are able to reach their full potential.
Spirit Day is, itself, proof of what develops when teens have the support they need. In 2010, 15-year-old Brittany McMillan decided to take a stand against bullying youth and laid the groundwork for this international day of solidarity. Now, GLAAD continues to collaborate with Brittany, now in college, to keep Spirit Day growing and its impact multiplying.
Since Spirit Day began four years ago, schools and celebrities, the White House and Oprah, every major American sports league, faith-based organizations, leading corporations, national media outlets, landmarks, and folks in between have "gone purple" on Spirit Day. As a result, their public displays of support for well-being, safety, and equality of LGBT youth have reached millions. When, all over Times Square, sky-high billboards urge crowds to support LGBT youth, people notice.
Just as important as such large-scale endorsements is what happens in our schools, our homes, and our neighborhoods. That's where you come in. By visiting www.glaad.org/spiritday, you'll find resource kits geared towards students and the adults that support them, detailing just some of the ways to build sustainable LGBT-affirming environments on Spirit Day and every day. By making use of the kits and the additional resources within them, you will have a hand in creating the space that teens and young adults need to thrive fully.
When you "go purple" for Spirit Day, you do more than make a wardrobe choice or turn your Facebook and Twitter profiles purple. You become a needed voice of support for underserved youth and you affirm your belief in the limitlessness of what young people can accomplish. You contribute to a conversation that actively shifts the culture towards inclusion and acceptance.
I can't wait to see how you go purple on October 16. I hope you'll join me.