When Timothy Brown* went home last year on a break from school he noticed a lot of new graffiti on the bridge where he used to fish as a boy.
"All pretty fresh, all very vitriolic anti-gay kind of rhetoric. They were like the kinds of taunts kids might make to another child suspected of being gay. Some of it was actually quite sexually explicit. There was a lot of it. It had been done in quite a few different hands, with different paint and ink, but it was like a group of people had gone out together."
As economic conditions worsen, hate-mongers are preying on the fears of a floundering populace. Kids who already see very little opportunity for a future are being fed a toxic message of hate and blame. In many ways, the children who spread this hate are as much victims of it as the children who are the targets. The odd thing, Brown says, is that he has never felt any hostility directed towards him personally. Laughingly calling himself "a little bit flaming", Brown says that he feels the same good will as always when he goes back home. And yet, clearly, something is brewing underneath the surface.
"It's easy to go back to the city and just be a little insular. And yet people who live in these communities must be feeling it. It's almost like you have the feeling that things could change suddenly."
A 2009 study of LGBTQIA youth found that 9 out of 10 youth felt unsafe attending school at some point. A new spate of suicides by LGBTQIA youth who felt harassed and bullied by their peers affirms this.
"People are looking for hope, but instead they are given hate." Brown says. "Hate is a poor substitute."
As the federal government increasingly ceases to act as a database of social data, people will have to keep their ears and eyes open in their communities. Becoming aware is the first step.
There are a few organizations speaking out about hate speech and anti-gay rhetoric, but not many organizations which actually reach out into the community. Some sites have a forum where youth can tell their stories, and upload pictures and video’s. Though speaking out can be cathartic, there may be long-term consequences for those who publish their stories impulsively. Learning how to stay safe, both emotionally and physically, is a coping skill that some LGBTQIA youth cannot afford to be without.
*Name changed by request for privacy and safety.