Homophobic Bullying on Youth
You are not alone. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t do anything to deserve being bullied. And there is a whole world waiting for you, filled with possibilities. There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are. And so, if you ever feel like because of bullying, because of what people are saying, that you’re getting down on yourself, you’ve got to make sure to reach out to people you trust. Whether it’s your parents, teachers, or folks that you know care about you just the way you are. You’ve got to reach out to them; don’t feel like you’re in this by yourself.
-Barack Obama, “It Gets Better”
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the saying, 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,' implies that people cannot be hurt by the negative things said to or about them. The only time something can hurt is when it's physical pain. Tell that to 15-year-old, Nigel Shelby, who was experiencing homophobic bullying in school, and as a result, he committed suicide. It's sad that our youth cannot express their sexual orientation without facing backlash from their peers in school. Unfortunately, Nigel Shelby is not the first, nor he will be the last to encounter bullying in school for their sexual orientation. School bullying is an oppressive mode of interpersonal conflict that rattles the bodies and beings of young people. While no youth is exempt from being bullied, some populations tend to be more vulnerable and at greater risk than others (Berry 2018). The stigma and discrimination connected to homosexuality promote the propagation of homophobic bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth by their peers. Bullying can take the form of homophobic names, sexual harassment, and even brutality. The classroom has been characterized by social psychologists as the “most homophobic of all institutions.” (Essay, UK 2016). The stigma and discrimination connected to homosexuality promote the propagation of homophobic bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth by their peers. Bullying can take the form of homophobic names, sexual harassment, and even brutality. The classroom has been characterized by social psychologists as the “most homophobic of all institutions” (Essay, UK 2016). This paper will evaluate how homophobic bullying affects the mental and physical health of LGBT youth in and out of school. This paper will also analyze the effects produced by a positive school climate, parental and peer support as well as personal resilience.
Outside the home, schools are the primary source for educating, socializing, and providing help to the young generation in the U.S. School environments can be very hostile for students, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Without proper policies that support and protect LGBT students, they will continue to face exclusion, discrimination, and bullying, placing them at physical and psychological risk and restricting their education. “Defined as a “systematic abuse of power, school bullying consists of harassment, intimidation, taunting, ridicule, and/or physical aggression” (Greene, Britton, and Fitts 2013). Also, bullying depends on a power unevenness between communicators that make it challenging for youth who are bullied to shield themselves physically, psychologically, emotionally, and/or relationally (Berry 2018).
Researchers conclude that Bullying is prompted by prejudice against distinct groups, for example on grounds of morality, race, or sexual orientation. For the past several decades, research has demonstrated the normality of LGBT, however anti-gay bias fed by religiosity and cultural attitudes that spreads negative views of this form of sexuality (Greydanus 2017). Diaz and Kosciw (2009) assessed the school climate for roughly 2,120 LGBT minority students and discovered that over 80% were harassed for their sexual orientation. Homophobic bullying is very prevalent in schools. Students who are sexually questioned and those who identify as nonheterosexual report being teased about their sexual orientation more than heterosexual students. Grossman et al. (2009) provided a questionnaire to 3,450 LGBT students between the age of 13-18, and of that, one-third confirmed they had been victimized because of their sexual orientation “Victims of homophobic bullying are usually individuals who identify as LGBT. However, heterosexual students might also be victimized not because of their sexual orientation, but because they are perceived as somehow going against traditional masculine/feminine gender role expectations” (Orue and Calvete 2018).
Effects of Bullying
The expression homophobic bullying occurs when the motive is prejudice against people who classify or are recognized as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Research done by Herling (2018) in Montana, revealed that bullying is detrimental to youth development. Sixty percent of LGBT students doubted they would graduate high school because of the opposing environment in their school. More than half felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation - just under half regularly avoided school bathrooms, locker rooms, and gym classes. Roughly one quarter was verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and almost all heard homophobic remarks, such as: 'I hate gays. They should be killed;' 'You're a faggot.' Herling (2018) and Mishna et al. (2009) agree that students who attend rural or small-town schools are subject to higher levels of victimization based on gender expression and sexual orientation. Kosice et al. (2013) believe there is not enough focus on the impact a hostile climate has on LGBT students' access to education and ability to learn. Therefore, given the evidence that LGBT youths undergo a greater risk of discrimination than their non-LGBT peers, it is imperative to produce a better understanding of the impact that school climate has on their mental well-being and, in turn, on academic performance. The social and emotional influence discrimination has on LGBT youths is very impactful. Instead of being social individuals, LGBT youths remain in the closet and hide. The isolation that they endure can turn into depression which oftentimes leads to substance abuse or even suicide.
Coping with Harassment and Violence
LGBT youths have higher chances of alcohol and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers. Drug use is a way for LGBT youth to feel normal after dealing with the negative stigma. According to Bochenek and Brown 2001:70), a Youth Risk Behavior Survey was taken in 1999 that confirmed those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, were at a higher risk of participating in activities than their peers. The isolation and lack of emotional support force LGBT youths into a downward spiral. They look for ways to numb the pain that’s going on around them. To cope with harassment, and violence some LGBT youth engage in promiscuous activities without protection. Sexually active youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender are at a higher of catching sexually transmitted diseases. This increased risk extends to HIV infection, transmitted most commonly among adolescents through sexual activity. “Often lacking positive sources of peer support and outlets for socialization, they may downplay or disregard health concerns out of a desire for companionship and intimacy” (Bochenek and Brown 2001: 71).
Discrimination against LGBT youth is coming from their peers and adults, including, parents, coaches, and teachers. Evans and Chapman (2014) confirm that bullying takes on four forms which include physical force, such as punching or kicking, verbal teasing, and name-calling; spreading rumors or posting disturbing photographs either electronically or physically- to damage the victims' reputation and relationships; and property damage, including stealing. Cyberbullying can be done anonymously through a social media platform that is accessible to a lot more people. It's harder for victims to defend themselves when it is put out on a public platform. When someone continues to experience bullying of all forms, they soon experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. Cole (2007) insists that discrimination against LGBT youths can build repression along with a loss in their natural growth. “Ann Cook notes that lesbian and gay youth “often invest tremendous energy in coping with society’s negativity and discrimination. Lacking healthy adult [role] models, skills, and support systems, many conclude that they have no hope of ever becoming happy and productive” (Bochenek and Brown 2001: 68). Many of the LGBT youths interviewed by Bochenek and Brown (2001) reported signs of depression that resulted in 'sleeplessness, excessive sleep, loss of appetite, and feeling of hopelessness' (Bochenek and Brown 2001: 69). Alex M., one of the youths interviewed, reported that the harassment got to a point to where he dreaded going to school and soon ended up missing fifty-six days. LGBT youth who experienced prolonged school victimization suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). LGBT youth bullying can lead to adult depression, suicidal ideation, decreased life satisfaction, lower self-esteem, and lower social integration according to Greene et al (2013).
Lack of Support
Oftentimes, parents are unaware that their children are involved in bully-victim problems because their children do not tell them. However, there are some instances where parents are not accepting of the LGBT lifestyle, so in return, the child does not disclose that information out of fear, of no longer being accepted, or possibly being kicked out of the home. LGBT youth who are subjected to discrimination and harassment may end up living on the street in excessive numbers because they have been ordered out of their homes or out of the foster care system after their sexual orientation is learned. When there’s a lack of security, guidance, and support from the family, that can have a lasting effect on LGBT youth. Parents may encourage the use of aggressive and retaliatory behaviors. The research found that once some LGBT youth revealed their sexual preference to their parents, they endured more physical and verbal abuse and more suicidality. Some parents reacted with shock, grief, self-guilt, anger, and rejection. LGBT youth who does not have access to support systems at home or at school can become severely isolated.
There is an instance where parents are not able to handle the idea of their child being a homosexual, so they abuse and torture them physically and mentally. For example, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her parents neglected to support her decision to be a trans teenager. Instead of getting her help that would conform to her sexual orientation, her parents put her in “Christian therapy,” which neglected her need for emotional support; 14-year-old Giovanni Melton was shot and killed by his father because he could not handle his son being gay. 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was brutally tortured by his parents because they believed he was gay. It was devastating to read those stories and not have a negative thoughts. Young children took of this earth because of their sexual orientation. When will it stop? Home is supposed to be a safe place, but for a lot of LGBT youths, it has become the worse place.
Some schools have severe violence problems that jeopardize the learning climate and endanger LGBT youth. Research confirms that middle and high schools in the United States are unsupportive and hazardous environments for LGBT youth. LGBT youth who encounter bullying report feeling school is unsafe and often feel uncomfortable while in school (Greydanus 2017). There are some principals, teachers, and staff members who discriminate against LGBT students. When some LGBT youth reported assault or harassment to staff at school, they took no action and advised the youth to ignore it (Herling 2018). In the research done by Bochenek and Brown (2001), LGBT youth echoed that they felt teachers only respond when it's a physical act but concluded that if it's verbal abuse some teachers go along with it. LGBT teachers at times reframed from intervening because they were worried about the backlash they would get from school officials, parents, and students. Teachers in states that don't provide job protection due to discrimination are less likely to get involved. “many students told us that they thought their school experiences would have been better if they had a teacher who was openly gay”.