Gay bullying is particularly difficult to address because kids are searching for their identity in adolescence. Bullying based on sexual orientation can be particularly damaging. Yet these students get bullied at a higher rate than their heterosexual peers.
The types of bullying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students suffer are varied and some types are more common:
- 81.9 percent are verbal harassment in nature
- 38.3 percent are physical harassment (including destruction of their property or belongings)
- 18.3 percent include physical assaults at school.
The places in which gay bullying take place also are varied, but the bulk take place common areas:
- 39 percent in locker rooms
- 38.8 percent in bathrooms
- 32.5 percent in gym class.
This type of harassment typically involves witnesses, as they are carried within school grounds. Yet witnesses do not come forward. Further student education may change that, but the situation also requires greater vigilance from teachers, coaches, administrators and support staff.
As with any type of bullying, the damage of gay bullying goes beyond emotional and spills out onto academics.
Gay bullying affects victims’ school attendance:
- 29.8 percent reported skipping a class at least once
- 31.8 percent missed a day of school in the past month due to safety fears
Missed days and emotional distress affects these students’ grades. Students who reported being harassed due to their sexual orientation had a lower grade point average, 2.9, than their lesser harassed peers with an average grade point average of 3.2.
The good news is that of the data that has been collected, school efforts to improve the school environment for LGBT students is having a positive outcome. The 2011 National School Climate Survey reports decreased levels of biased language and victimization. Teens surveyed also reported greater access to LGBT resources and support. The increased efforts for fighting gay bullying on behalf of school translate into a safer school environment for students. The 2011 survey had 8,584 student respondents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Schools around the country are working to make improvements, but much more needs to be done to end gay bullying.
- Only 45.7 percent of LGBT students reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school.
- A mere 16.8 percent learned positive representations in school about LGBT historical figures.
- Lamentably, only 54.6 percent could identify six or more supportive educators
- Only 7.4 percent said their school included gay bulling in their anti-bullying initiatives.
The task for the community is to push schools to do more. Students, teachers, administrators and parents can do more to help eradicate gay bullying. The actions below are a step in right direction.
- Consider lobbying your school to implement Gay-Straight Alliances, which help bridge understanding among students, focusing tolerance. If a student cannot gain the attention of administrators, seek assistance from supportive school staff. You may want to seek support from the Equal Access Act which protects the right to form a GSA. right to form a GSA under the Equal Access Act.
- Youth can work with student councils to include gay tolerance in their schools anti-bullying policies. If students do not want to stand out by spearheading these initiatives, an anonymous suggestion can be made or a supportive staff member can make the suggestion to the student council.
- Parents and teachers can urge the school to schedule a discussion at an assembly or an after school activity about tolerance. Suggest a guest speaker from your community of from the media.
- Seek support from a teacher, coach or administrator to start an organization on campus that offers students support and resources, such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Contact these groups to send educational materials and resources that can be distributed to students.
- School administrators should consider an anonymous suggestion box, where students can feel uninhibited to make anonymous bullying reports.
- Adults should be mindful of protecting student privacy. The youth may not want a teacher to disclose LGBT issues to their parents or vice versa.
Adults and students must be aware of their rights. While federal civil right laws to not protect harassment based on sexual orientation, the bullying may target a particular student’s non-conformity to gender norms, which then falls under sexual harassment that is covered under Title IX. Learn more about federal civil rights laws here.