The bullying of youth who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is an especially common problem throughout our schools. Bullying against LGBT students can also be especially severe. According to a nationwide survey of 7,261 middle and high school students conducted in 2009 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly two-thirds of respondents said they have felt unsafe in school, and one in five reported having been physically assaulted. (Webley, 2011)
Hostility towards LGBT youth in schools
Compared to their heterosexual peers, gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth face much more hostility at school and more severe types of bullying:
- 25.1% of GLB youth missed school during the past month because they felt unsafe. This compares to 5.1% of their heterosexual peers.
- 32.7% of GLB youth were threatened with a weapon while at school. This compares to 7.1% of their heterosexual peers.
- 50.5% of GLB youth had their property damaged at school, compared to 28.7% of their heterosexual peers.
- 14% of GLB youth had been in a fight that required medical treatment in the past twelve months, as compared to 4.1% of their peers.
- Yet GLB youth had a much lower rate of getting in fights overall; 8.1% compared to 37.6% of their heterosexual peers. This would indicate that GLB youth try to avoid conflict and are less aggressive than their peers, but that when they do end up in a physical confrontation, the attacks are more vicious and severe. (Garofalo et al., 1998)
Schools often ignore bullying
A two-year study conducted by Human Rights Watch found that schools often ignore the harassment of gay students. (Human Rights Watch, 2001) Other adults may subtly or openly encourage it. Many conservatives fiercely oppose anti-bullying curricula that even mentions the prevention of bullying over sexual orientation. (Week, 11-12-2010)
When teachers and other adults do not attempt to stop such harassment, this abuse can quickly escalate into more severe forms of violence. (Garbarino & deLara, 2002) It also makes the bullying especially destructive on psychological terms, since there are so many adults around who essentially reinforce the messages of the bullies.
Many people might assume that openly gay teens are “flaunting” their preferences to others in an obnoxious manner, but this simply isn’t the case. In most instances, youth who are different do all they can to change their feelings in a way that conforms to social expectations, and will also go out of their way to hide their orientation from others. Yet pretending to be something you aren’t only goes so far. Classmates may sense something is off and nag a child until they admit to it. Or it may become obvious when a child isn’t good enough at faking interest in the opposite sex to the same degree that his or her peers are interested. He or she may not be able to hide their attractions or this will reveal itself in other ways. One way or another, a child is discovered as different. Once that happens, rumors will get around, and they’ll be labeled as the gay kid, thus becoming a target for bullies.
“To say that he is gay and that is why he was bullied is to find a reason within him for the fact that he was bullied, when the truth is that the reason lies outside him in the bullies and the bullying culture of which they were a part.”
– Sullovan, Cleary & Sullovan (2004, p.13)
As the aforementioned authors state, it’s extremely important to remember that children are not bullied “because they are gay” or “because” they are anything. Youth are bullied because of character deficiencies in the bully, not because of something they are. Unfortunately, there are a large number of not-very-nice human beings in the world who believe that sexual diversity makes one a “pervert” who deserves to be ridiculed or persecuted. But this is a baseless anger that exists solely within the mind of the persecutor, and bullied children have done nothing to deserve it.