During June, we celebrate diversity in Marin County, recognizing those in our community who identify as LGBTQ+.

This time last year, we were reminded that gay bashing can happen even in our own backyard when a Fairfax transgender teen was taunted and verbally harassed. Now, after a year of COVID-19, there is upsetting new data showing an increase in the suicide rate among gay youth. Our schools and community need to better address both this issue and its root causes.

In that incident on June 20, 2021, a video captured an adult couple harassing a Fairfax transgender teen who was planting rainbow flags in celebration of Pride Month. The man and woman taunted the teen saying “you look like a female. There’s only two — male and female and that’s it.”

The incident generated much needed discussion about how this could happen in a progressive area, such as Marin County.

Fast forward one year, and a new national survey released by the nonprofit Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered taking their life this past year, with transgender and nonbinary youth making up more than half of the respondents.

This is a shocking 3% increase since their last survey in 2019. Further, Indigenous, Black, multiracial and Latino youth are more likely to consider suicide than their White counterparts. Like the teen in Fairfax, more than half reported experiencing some type of bullying or harassment in their community.

Last month, the Marin Academy Parent Education Committee hosted an anti-bullying webinar, during which I interviewed activist Jane Clementi. In 2010, Clementi’s son, Tyler, tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied and harassed because of his sexual orientation. As his roommate livestreamed an intimate moment between Tyler and another student, Tyler’s world began spiraling.  Panic set in every time he checked the site’s comments. The consequence, as his mother explained, was that Tyler then chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Bullying is defined as any unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance, and this behavior is then repeated over again. Many of us are familiar with physical bullying, whether it’s pushing, hitting or causing physical pain to someone, as well as verbal abuse through words and statements. For LGBTQ+ teens, this physical and verbal abuse amounts to gay bashing.

More than 80% of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed, report that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful. Yes, video classrooms decreased physical bullying in schools, but bullies just turned to social media, chat rooms and texting to exact their pain. This can be even more harmful than traditional bullying, since these platforms provide bullies with the anonymity they lack in a classroom setting.  People’s behavior changes when they are hidden behind a screen and cannot see the pain that they are inflicting in the other person’s eyes.

After the 2020 Fairfax incident, our community rallied in support of gay and queer youth, and the targeted teen reminded us that “we can be better people.”

Now, the rising rates of LGBTQ+ suicide remind us that our work is not yet done. This is an issue that isn’t talked about enough, and schools need to educate students and parents on both the rise in youth suicide and its root causes.  If you are an LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, feeling suicidal or need a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline at (866) 488-7386.

Jake Bizzell is a youth ambassador for the Tyler Clementi Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on ending physical and cyber bullying in schools, workplaces and communities of faith.  He is a high school junior at Marin Academy in San Rafael.