While bullying has become a common challenge teenagers and adolescents face at schools, more and more students are being maliciously name-called, having rumors spread about them and being gossiped about being gay. They receive unwanted sexual comments or jokes, and end up feeling isolated, excluded, intimidated and humiliated with obscene physical gestures, hitting, punching, poking, kicking, choking, chasing, stalking, or being threatened with physical harm. They might even receive unwanted sexual touching, teasing or harassment, in the name of being homosexual or acting outside of the boundaries of their perceived sexual identity. Learn More on homophobic bullying!
Other teens get cyber bullied through the Internet, instant messaging or cell phones, and they end up feeling intimidated, put down, threatened, excluded or made fun of because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. These are all several forms of homophobic bullying that happens both on and off school grounds, and so little is being done about it.
Homophobic bullying does not only affect lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young people. Anyone who is perceived as different can become a target of homophobic bullying. Like any other form of bullying, homophobic bullying can be distressing for a child and can affect their confidence and well-being.
What can parents do?
As a parent or carer you can play an important role in making sure your child – regardless of their sexual orientation – has someone to turn to if they are being bullied and that they feel included and valued – at home and at school.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent or carer to be there to listen. Many young people find it difficult to talk about being homophobically bullied because they are afraid of what others might think. Some young people who experience homophobic bullying are afraid to tell anyone because they think people will assume they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. It is therefore important that you give your child time and space to talk to you about it. You should not just assume that your child is homosexual just because they are being homophobically bullied. You should also make sure your child knows that you respect, value and support them whatever their sexual orientation.
Bully-free Alberta provides the following ideas for parental guidance on how to deal with a homophobic-bullied child, teenager or adolescent.
If your child is the victim of homophobic bullying:
1. Offer support – Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings and emotions. Let him or her know that it’s ok to question one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. By your child telling you about their experiences with bullying, they’re asking you for help and see you as a key resource and important source of support in their lives.
2. Listen – Don’t judge or blame them for what happened. Make sure your child knows that you love them for whom they are and they don’t deserve to be bullied or abused.
3. Educate yourself – Reach out and find information on sexual minority issues and childhood/adolescent development. Search for local supports in your community such as community groups or gay-straight alliances. Talk to your child’s school counselor, family doctor, or public health nurse.
4. Work with your school – Report any bullying incidents to your school immediately. Your school has a professional and legal responsibility to keep your child safe. Work with your school’s administration team to develop a safety plan. Encourage your school and school board to include specific written protections for LGBTQ students in its bullying prevention policies and student codes of conduct.
5. Document everything – Keep a written record of all bullying-related incidents and follow-up meetings, including the date, time, location, witnesses, and what was said or done.
6. Contact the police – If your child is threatened, physically hurt, sexually assaulted, or have had their property damaged or stolen, immediately contact your local police service or RCMP detachment. If your police service has a hate crimes unit, contact the unit or designated officer after you’ve filed your report. Identify that you believe this to be a hate-motivated crime based on your child’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Describe in detail the hate or prejudice expressed that caused your child to fear for his or her safety.
7. Communicate and build self-esteem – Don’t ignore your child’s feelings. Homophobic bullying can be an intensely personal and disturbing experience for anyone, but especially for youth who are searching to find their identity and sense of belonging to a community of peers and adults. Create opportunities for your child to build their self-confidence and personal resiliency. Help to develop their assets and strengths by creating opportunities for them to excel at activities of interest (i.e. Sports, dance, drama, or hobbies). Understand that many youth who are bullied may feel ashamed and internalize negative feelings of guilt, ridicule, or stigma. Help your son or daughter to move from internalizing to externalizing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
How should a child respond to homophobic language at school?
Many preteens and adolescents grow up to think homophobic bullying is acceptable because of how common casual homophobic language is at school, which makes it crucial to challenge homophobic language when it occurs.
Teens should know that homophobic language should not be tolerated, in or out of school. Parents should talk to school administrations about having that particular point included in school policies and procedures. However, when an incident does happen, it should be made clear to them that homophobic language is indeed offensive, and in case it continues to happen, the effects of homophobic bullying should be explained in detail. Furthermore, if a child persists, they should be removed from the classroom, where teachers and staff should further explain why such homophobic remarks are by no means acceptable. If that does not work, senior managers at school should be involved, and the teen should know that sanctions could be applied, and at that point the school might consider inviting the teen’s parents or caregivers to discuss the student’s negative attitude.
From Family Lives, a UK organization dedicated at making family life better and reaching common understanding, we bring to you the following stories about homophobic bullying:
“My daughter was ‘outed’ in the sixth form. Prior to that she’d been pushed into doorways, and people wouldn’t sit next to her in case they ‘caught’ it. She went to a teacher she knew and trusted, to ask for advice, and the teacher simply quizzed her on why she thought she was gay. Then the teacher asked her if she’d been abused.” Sue’s daughter came out to her when she left school and told her about the teacher’s comments some years later. “I was appalled by the teacher’s behaviour,” says Sue. “Luckily my daughter tried talking to another teacher who found her some support groups for gay people, and she hasn’t looked back.’”
Alan, 13, secondary school, Scotland:
“I get called names all the time at school, especially ‘poof’ and ‘faggot’. My stuff is always being ripped up or drawn on or stolen.”
Kirsty, 17, single sex independent school, Greater London:
“Nasty notes passed in class. The other girls wouldn’t let me change for PE in the same room as them.”
“Rumours went round at secondary school that I was gay, and I got fed up with denying it, so I said I was. After that, the name-calling got even worse. My immediate group of friends were very supportive, but it was other people in the school who verbally bullied me, some of whom I didn’t know at all.”
Soon after Daniel came out, one boy attacked him and tried to strangle him. “It happened right in front of a teacher, and they took no action,” he recalls. “It was only when my parents and I made a formal complaint to the school that they did anything – but even then, they only suspended him for three days. Then he was back, and the verbal abuse continued.”
The homophobic bullying had a dramatic effect on Daniel’s studies, and he didn’t achieve the grades he knew he was capable of. “We talked about me moving schools, and I’ve known people who’ve done that because of bullying,” he says. “In the end I just stuck it out, but I was disappointed with my exam results. I know that without the bullying I would have done a lot better.” He feels strongly that teachers are not adequately trained to know how to deal with homophobic bullying, and many of them fear having to tackle it. “If they can’t deal with it, what chance is there for the pupils?”
Life improved for Daniel once he left school. “At work, I didn’t come across homophobic bullying,” he says. “You get the occasional comment outside work, but that’s pretty rare.” He plans to return to studying at some point in the future.
Despite the bullying, Daniel doesn’t regret coming out. “It was the right thing for me to do in the longer term, even if I did get bullied afterwards. My mum took the news really well, though it took my dad a bit longer to get used to it. Even though the bullies effectively outed me, I would have come out soon afterwards anyway. I don’t regret being honest about my sexuality.”
And his advice for other families dealing with homophobic bullying? “Don’t go charging into the school demanding action. Think things through. This won’t be resolved overnight,” he says. “When you do go into school, stay calm, be polite and have a list of actions you would like them to take. All too often, schools simply don’t know what to do. You can find suggestions on Stonewall’s website here. You can also remind them that schools failing to tackle homophobic bullying are breaking the law.”
Daniel adds that it’s vital to challenge any homophobic language when you hear it – for example: ‘those trainers are so gay’. “Using the term ‘gay’ in a derogatory way adds to negative perceptions about gay people. If you’ve got parents calling Graham Norton a ‘gay poof’, for example, it’s not surprising their kids go into school and copy this behaviour.””
How about having LGBT parents?
According to the US Census Bureau, some 115,000 same-sex households recently reported raising children, but growing numbers don’t necessarily translate into social acceptance. However, LBGT parents are represented in the media as well. The hit sitcom “Modern Family” includes a storyline about a gay couple, Cam and Mitchell, who raise an adopted daughter. Moreover, “The Kids Are All Right” is a movie that was recently nominated for an Oscar, and revolved around a family with two lesbian parents.
On the Yahoo Contributor Network, Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben, a writer about parenting who feeds on 23 years of raising four children and 23 years teaching K-8, special needs, adult education and homeschool, writes about having homosexual parents. In the GLSEN ( Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) study “Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States” elementary age kids in grades 3-6 were asked about whether they experienced or witnessed various kinds of bullying, including gender-based and gay parent issues. GLSEN says this is the first-ever national survey of homophobia and gender non-conformity in elementary school.
Teachers and students were asked questions about specific kinds of teasing: kids being harassed for acting or expressing preferences outside of gender dictates (“feminine” boys, “tomboy” girls), for having diverse family structures (gay or lesbian parents or same-sex married parents), for being from certain racial or ethnic backgrounds and for having physical issues or mental handicaps, Sachteleben says. Furthermore, nearly half of kids reported hearing the word “gay” regularly used in a negative way. Over half of students heard specific comments like “spaz” or “retard” commonly used. Around one quarter of children reported hearing specific homophobic comments and racial slurs. Equal numbers of teachers said they witnessed these behaviours, too.
Sachteleben adds that eight percent of students said they sometimes behaved in gender non-conforming ways and over half of those students said they were teased at school for this. In addition, the GLSEN study found that most teachers address various kinds of parenting in their lessons plans about families, less than one quarter of teachers included gay or same-sex parents in their diversity curriculum. Less than 10 percent included trans-gender parents in classroom discussions.
The American Academy of Adolescent and Pediatric Psychiatry (AAACP) says that millions of children have at least one openly gay parent. Children are being raised by birth parents in LGBT homes, by gay single parents or parents in committed relationships or by same-sex married couples. Many children have been adopted by same-sex partners, too, and GLSEN says same-sex parents may wish to talk with their child’s school about an upcoming webinar based on the report findings as well as a tool kit they’ve developed called “Ready, Set, Respect.” Parents are encouraged to work with schools and teachers to promote understanding, writes Sachteleben.
According to the AAACP, raising children in a LGBT household can be a challenge.
Although research shows that children with gay and lesbian parents are as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents, they can face some additional challenges. Some LGBT families face discrimination in their communities and children may be teased or bullied by peers. Parents can help their children cope with these pressures in the following ways:
- Prepare your child to handle questions and comments about their background or family.
- Allow for open communication and discussions that are appropriate to your child’s age and level of maturity.
- Help your child come up with and practice appropriate responses to teasing or mean remarks.
- Use books, Web sites and movies that show children in LGBT families.
- Consider having a support network for your child (For example, having your child meet other children with gay parents.)
- Consider living in a community where diversity is more accepted.
Like all children, most children with LGBT parents will have both good and bad times. They are not more likely than children of heterosexual parents to develop emotional or behavioural problems. If LGBT parents have questions or concerns about their child, they should consider a consultation with a qualified mental health professional.