Bullying has been a problem in schools for probably as long as there have been schools, but in the last ten years or so bullying has changed. It has evolved, and has even become more vicious with the advent of technology and cyberbullying. Within the last ten years the U.S. has also seen a dramatic increase in the openness of homosexuality among teenagers, which is very fortunate; finally, teens are able to express themselves for who they are without having to fear for their lives and well being. So who is the lesbian bully?
But that can’t be said for all teens. Although homosexuality is widely accepted in many social aspects of life, many youths have found struggle in the form of bullying. Bullying by classmates, neighbors, and in some cases, even staff and teachers have partaken in bullying. The LGBT community as a whole still struggles with bullying during the adolescent stage of their lives. According to Stopbullying.gov, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth, or any youths that identify as LGBT, have a higher risk of being bullied during adolescence. It has also been noted that being bullied at eight years old can lead to anxiety 10-15 years later. It has also been reported that Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults who reported homophobic bullying for extended periods of time (i.e., during a school year), had more stress symptoms.
Because of this high risk, it’s very important to create a safe environment for LGBT teens, and promote diversity and equality so that bullying can be prevented.
Before we begin discussing how to create safe, bully-free environments for the LGBT teen community, let’s discuss instances of a lesbian bully and how it reflects bullying against the LGBT teens as a whole.
In July 2013, New York Daily News reported that Destin Holmes was bullied so much at her school that she filed a lawsuit against the Moss Point, Mississippi school district. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t the students that were bullying Destin to the point where she decided to take the school district to court—it was the staff. According to the same New York Daily News Article, Destin was called “a pathetic fool” and (pardon the language) that he did not “want a dyke in school.” Destin’s school principal was her own lesbian bully.
Bullying from students is bad enough, but when it comes from people of authority, it can have a whole new effect. Here were professional, college educated adults, and they were bullying a young teen just because she was gay. The lesbian bullies Destin encountered called her freak, dyke, and lesbian, and the bullying was so bad that she was homeschooled until it proved to be too expensive to continue.
Aside from names, the bullying Destin endured included one teacher forcing her to use the boys’ restroom instead of the girls’. In another instance, Destin’s teacher didn’t allow her to participate in a boys versus girls quiz game, and was forced to sit in the middle in the room. The actions of this lesbian bully can have a traumatic effect later Destin’s adult life.
Destin, after her story made the news, told The Huffington Post: “I actually died during that class. And what was running through my head was, ‘Why would a professional teacher say that to a student. Why?’ I’m still human. I’m not an alien.”
Katy Butler grew up in Plymouth, Michigan. At the age of 12, she came out as a lesbian to her best friend, who then proceeded to inform the entire school, which led to the bullying Butler would have to deal with until she left to a high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Some of the types of bullying Butler had to go through were overhearing things in classrooms and hallways, things like people telling her she was gross, and that it was wrong for her to be a lesbian. Soon it became physical. Butler’s fellow students began pushing her against walls and into lockers, all while calling her obscene names. The violence escalated to the point where the students ended up slamming her hand into her locker, breaking her finger.
Destin’s and Katy’s case are prime examples of how intense bullying can be, and the toll it can have on a person overall. No student should ever experience something like bullying.
The environment that Destin and Katy found in her school is not the kind of environment that any teenager should go through. Not only is it harmful to the student mentally and physically, but it also hurts their grades and their chances at furthering their education, and bullying can even affect their adult life. It is important that a school creates a safe and supportive learning environment for students. Having parents that are both caring and accepting is also important in creating this environment. By creating this environment LGBT youth will do well in school and maintain good mental and physical health. In an environment opposite to this, LGBT youth are likely to endure difficulties in their lives and school environments, which is not limited to bullying and in some cases uses violence. This is the kind of environment Destin was in, and it’s not the kind of environment we want to see in our society.
In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students (aged 13-21), and found that because of their sexual orientation:
- 8/10 students were verbally harassed
- 4/10 were harassed physically
- 6/10 admitted they did not feel safe at school
- 1/5 students were the victims of bullying
Verbal harassments tend to be more common than physical harassments, but one concern is that if the verbal harassments continue with no stopping them in sight, they may escalate to physical harassments and worse–violence. Another study stated that adolescents who identified within the LGBT community in grades 7-12 were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide, as opposed to their heterosexual peers.
Creating a Safe Environment
Chronic bullying, suicide attempts, and an unsafe environment are not what we want our children to go through. As parents it’s important to make sure that your child has a safe, supportive environment so they can succeed in school and live a healthy adult life. Here are some tips on how to create a safe environment for LGBT youth, as prescribed by stopbullying.org.
- Establish strong connections in order to keep communication open and easy. Because some LGBT teens feel unwanted, it’s important for them to know that their families, friends, schools, and communities support them.
- Create a safe school environment by sending the message that no one should be treated differently because they identify themselves as LGBT. The protection of a student’s gender identity and their sexual orientation can and should be added to school policy.
- Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) can be created on campus to further the notion of safe school environment.
- Ensure the privacy of students by not disclosing or discussing anything that might reveal they are LGBT.
- Encourage students to respect one another regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
- Establish “safe places” on campus. This could be the counselor’s office, teacher’s office, of the headquarters of the Gay Straight Alliance (mentioned earlier).
- Allow and even encourage student-organized clubs that welcome those who identify as LGBT, and that promote the safe environment that is needed in all schools.
- Schools must take charge in informing and providing students with educational materials that contain HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention information that is relevant not only to LGBT youth, but all youth, as well.
- Create and publicize trainings for teachers to attend on how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and encourage and require staff to attend these trainings.
- Provide access to community specialists who have experience providing health services, including HIV/STD testing and counseling, to LGBTQ youth. Also, access to community specialists who have experience in providing social and psychological services to LGBTQ youth is also important. Mental and physical health must be taken into consideration (CDC).
If parents and schools work together, we can make LGBT teens feel safe in school. It is important to make sure that the youth of this country feel welcome, wanted, and are given enough confidence and encouragement to succeed in life. This is especially true to LGBT teens, who unfortunately face a lot of challenges growing up.