High school and middle school bullying in the United States has become an epidemic. Bullying affects the entire student population, but members of the LGBTQ community take the brunt of the abuse. Among them, transexual people are routinely victimized. Too often cases of serious bullying are not reported to the teachers and school administrators, and on top of that, there is a disturbing tendency among school administrators to not address these instances. So what is Transgender Bullying?
According to a study conducted by the National Center of Transgender Equality (2011):
- 82% of transgender youth report that they feel unsafe at school
- 44% of them had been abused physically (ex. punched, shoved, etc.)
- 67% of them had been bullied online
- 64% of them had their property stolen or destroyed
These numbers show that more than half of these students are being victimized on a regular basis. Although the treatment of LGBTQ children does vary across the country, that was a national study. Bullying is present all across the country, and it is almost guaranteed that no matter where they live, a transgendered child will encounter bullying at their school.
A troubling statistic is that two out of three kids are victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is especially problematic, because it victimizes the children in their own home. They have no escape from that kind of abuse.
Aside from the immediate physical and emotional trauma that is incurred by the victims of bullying, there are other long term effects of abuse. Children who are frequently bullied may be intimidated to go to school, and they are less likely to enrich themselves academically. Bullying can push kids to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug or alcohol abuse.
The Effects of Bullying
Nuttbrock and colleagues (2010) surveyed young transgender women in the New York City metropolitan area, and their findings indicated a direct connection with being victimized through bullying and serious depression. They also found a link between being bullied and feeling suicidal.
According to the United States Center for Disease Control (2014), compared to non-LGBT children, LGBT children who felt high levels of rejection were:
- About six times more likely to be seriously depressed
- More than eight times more likely to attempt suicide
- More than three times more likely to abuse illegal drugs
- More than three times more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior
Transgender youth also skip school to avoid encountering bullies. A recent study found that more than half of transgendered students skip school on a regular basis (Greytak, Kosciw, and Diaz 2009). These students are already at risk, and failing academically sets them up for a difficult adulthood. Schools should be safe places, and there is really no excuse for teachers and school administrators to be complacent when faced with these horrific statistics.
Testimonial from a Victim
The following is a testimonial from a transsexual student.
These guys followed me saying that I was a gay male. I was with my friend, and they started chasing us around. They threw me in the trash. They started calling me names like homo and hit me. My friend, a guy, saved me. Well, it made me feel like, “Wow! If I have to go through this in order to live happy, I just didn’t want to be alive.” (Grossman et al. 2009).
The abuse this student has encountered is already pushing them toward suicide, and the tragedy is that these early years of one’s life are vital for a person to build their own identity and sense of confidence. For this student their early years are filled with ridicule and victimization at the hands of bullies. This could have serious effects on them down the road.
Cases of bullying frequently go unreported. According to a national survey, only 54% of transgendered victims reported their bullies to school authorities (Greytak et al. 2009). Among that unacceptably low number of reported cases, only about a third of them were seriously addressed by the school (Greytak et al. 2009). The vast majority of bullying cases are thus completely ignored.
“Boys will be boys” is a commonly cited excuse for complacency with bullying, and it is true that the vast majority of bullies are boys and the majority of victims were born as males (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, Herman & Keisling, 2011). The conventional wisdom is that tween and teen boys will always be aggressive with each other, and that it is a futile effort to try to regulate their behavior. However, this logic is deeply flawed.
By not competently addressing bullying, the teachers are implicitly condoning this abuse, and this only adds to the pain already inflicted upon the victims. This helps create an atmosphere of hate in which these transexual students have to, quite literally, fight to survive.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has several recommendations for teachers and school administrators to address LGBTQ bullying.
- Encourage respect in the student population toward the LGBTQ community
- Have “safe spaces”, such as a counselor’s office, available for LGBTQ students to find refuge if they feel threatened
- Facilitate the creation of student-led clubs that encourage friendly relations between different student groups
- Bring in psychologists who are familiar with LGBTQ issues to speak to victims and bullies alike
There is no gurantee that a school’s efforts will succeed in completely eradicating bullying, but if they do nothing, then they are also responsible. Everybody must work together to protect the safety of the children.
Considering most cases of bullying occur on school grounds, it is crucial that schools address the problem directly. However, there are also initiatives that parents should take to protect their children.
The CDC (2014) recommends:
- Parents should accept the gender orientation of their children. No amount of abuse or neglect is going to fundamentally change that aspect of their identity
- If they discover that bullying has occurred, they must take immediate action with the school personnel
- Parents should always be there to listen and support their children
- Be aware of your children’s online activity. Cyberbullying is far too common
There are cases that parents reject their children because of their gender and/or sexual orientation for religious or other reasons. This attitude is problematic, because it has been proven that LGBTQ adolescents that were rejected by their parents because of their orientation are significantly more likely to fall into depression, engage in risky behaviors, and even turn to suicide.
For those parents that accept their child’s transsexual identity, it is vital to be vigilant. Too many victims are ashamed to discuss cases of abuse with their parents. It is essential that parents help create a climate at home that allows the child to feel safe.
Unfortunately in this day and age, it is still inevitable that transgendered youth will encounter some form of bullying. If the parents can be there to tend to the physical and emotional wounds, then there is a much better chance that their child will recover.
Studies after studies have demonstrated that bullying is a serious problem in the United States, and that LGBTQ youth are frequently the victims. Transgender children are especially at risk, and it has been proven that bullying can push them into depression and risky behaviors.
So far several states have passed laws that are meant to protect these victims, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Parents and teachers have to work together to create a safe environment at school so that all students can feel safe and achieve their academic potential.