Gay bashing – that behavior, that for some, feels like the equivalent of school children bullying someone because of their body shape or hair color – where does it originate? Bashing someone because of their sexual orientation can, and has led to the tragic suicides of several gay teens and adults all across the U.K.
Gay Bashing Defined in the UK
“Gay bashing” is any behavior that targets someone who is or appears to be gay. In the U.K., this term is also referred to as “queer bashing.” When someone who hates gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals attacks them physically, they are engaging in the bullying of homosexuals, according to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online.
The behavior may often start with slurs being directed toward a gay person. From there, the bashing may progress toward physical violence directed against homosexuals. The person who hates homosexuals so much that they would physically attack them is known as a “homophobe.” That is, they have a fear of homosexuality and homosexual people. Homophobic individuals will express their dislike of homosexuals through discriminatory actions, such as excluding them from jobs, activities and groups.
According to About Equal Opportunities, homophobes may also hold the belief that, while homosexuality is “abnormal” or “deviant,” heterosexuality is the only “normal” expression of a person’s sexuality. Homophobes frequently express the mistaken belief that homosexuality is a choice, inferring that those who are homosexual are able to change their minds regarding their sexuality, “choosing” to be heterosexual. They also believe that homosexuals can, through, different types of therapy, be “cured” of their homosexuality. These therapies have been disproved in the U.K., Europe and in the U.S.
Where Homophobia and Gay Bashing Originate
Homophobia isn’t a psychological or psychiatric illness. Instead, it’s a fear borne out of ignorance or lack of information. Some of the beliefs that a homophobe might express include:
º All homosexuals carry AIDS or HIV.
º Every homosexual is a pedophile.
º Being homosexual means the person is condemned to Hell.
º Homosexuality, as well as being transgendered are choices.
Homophobia can and has led to the bashing of gay youth. When gays are bashed, the homophobe may temporarily feel better about their beliefs and fears, although these will soon return.
Fear of homosexuals and homosexuality isn’t illegal. What is illegal are the acts that homophobes take against people within the LGBT population. The British Parliament passed a law in December of 2003 that specifically outlaws discrimination against anyone in the LGBT population because of their sexual orientation. This law is called the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation Regulations. In addition, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 outlaws discrimination against same-sex couples who enter into civil partnerships. Individuals who undergo gender reassignment surgery have their civil rights protected by law. The law (Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 outlaw discrimination in the workplace, covering pay, treatment by employees and supervisors, vocational training and even self-employment.
How Bullying Affects Gay Teens
Imagine that your teen, whether gay or not, gets called “lezza” or “poof” in school. If they haven’t yet come out, they have to live with the fear that a classmate has outed them against their will.
Next, think of these phrases: “That’s so gay.” “You’re so gay.” Far from being harmless descriptions of an event or person, these two sentences are homophobic and attack someone for who they are. Every day, somewhere in the U.K., gay teens have to endure hearing language like this. Not only that, they have to put up with hearing words like “faggot, queer and homo.”
More than half of the students in U.K. schools have been targeted by homophobic bullying, according to Stonewall. Take a look at a few more statistics. You may believe that, when teachers and school administrators witness a bullying attack on a student, they intervene. You would be mistaken. More than half – three out of five students – report that their teachers have stepped in to protect them or other students perceived to be homosexual. Even worse 50 percent of gay students say that their schools try to teach the entire student body that bullying someone who is believed to be gay is wrong. In religious schools, this percentage is even lower – only 37 percent of these schools try to teach students that gay bullying is wrong.
One-third of students experiencing bullying because of their sexual orientation make a change in their future educational plans. Even more – three out of five students – say that their bullying has had a negative impact on their ability to perform well on their studies. When it comes to suicide and suicide attempts, people within the LGBT population are at higher risk of developing symptoms of depression. They are also more likely to harm themselves and make suicide attempts. Forty-one percent of gay individuals have at least considered killing themselves or they have made an active attempt at doing so. Approximately the same percentage of gay people harm themselves on purpose because they have been bullied. These statistics come from a study conducted by Stonewall in 2007. Since that study was published, British schools have developed new resources intended to help teachers and schools deal with bullying that arises from homophobia. The resources and materials are age-appropriate and of high quality, leading to a marked decrease in bullying related to homophobic beliefs.
In the five years since the study was published, 50 percent of gay youth say that their schools define bullying gay students is wrong. In 2007, this number was at 25 percent.
The numbers of gay students who are unable to report their bullying has dropped to 37 percent from over 50 percent.
Does the Language a Person Uses Endanger Gay Youth?
The words someone uses can influence others to act on their beliefs, whether right or wrong. As an example, if someone expresses a prejudicial belief against someone of color or against someone belonging to the LGBT population, a bystander may be encouraged to speak or act on their own belief as well.
One example is that of a gay couple beaten in an attack by several British youths in mid-2013. The couple, on their way home from a birthday party for one of the men, was confronted by the gang. While they were being beaten, one of the teens told them to “stay down . . . faggot.” The police characterized their attack as robbery with homophobic element.
One of the men, Christopher Bryant, said that he worried that homophobic attitudes were being encouraged and legitimized by British politicians who spoke out against marriage equality. According to Bryant, the politicians are denying equality to gay and lesbian couples and communicating the message that there is something wrong with homosexuality and homosexuals. Bryant also said that people tend to associate with others who hold similar beliefs: “Our social circles tend to be limited . . . circulate with like-minded people.”
Homophobia – What it Is
The fear of someone different may lead to attacks on others someone perceives to be different. Whether the “different people are black, women, handicapped – or lesbian, transgendered, bisexual or gay – someone who regards them as “different or bad” may lead to discrimination at the least. At the worst, homophobia can lead to gay bullying and physical attacks on people the homophobe either knows or perceives to be gay.
Homophobic Bullying and How it Affects a Target
Ryan lives in Sunderland in the U.K. Ryan is gay and has been in for more than his share of gay bullying attacks. He says that his school years were a “difficult challenge,” with the bullying he experienced changing his personality.
Some of what Ryan experienced included being called a pedophile. Homosexuality and pedophilia aren’t connected. His classmates regularly called Ryan a pervert because he liked other young men. He recounts becoming depressed because of his maltreatment. He also lost too much weight, which caused him to become too sick to attend school, according to Stonewall. Ultimately, his bullying experiences resulted in a suicide attempt – he knew that, no matter what happened, he would be bullied for being different.
One Man’s Rise Above Homophobia
The situation doesn’t have to end with the suicide of a gay person. One man left school in his sixth year after years of being bullied. He suffered from depression and anxiety that were so bad he inflicted injury on himself. He also began to look for ways to commit suicide.
Shaun Dellenty attended Lutterworth grammar school. During many of those years, he lived with the fear of being outed. Eventually, this fear was realized as some of his tormenters scribbled graffiti on the walls around town. His parents saw the graffiti and realized their son’s secret.
His bullying meant that Dellenty was not attending school even though he was studying for his A level examinations. His sixth form head called him into his office and Dellenty admitted what was happening to him. When he told the administrator that he was gay, he also said it would be better for him if he just left school. He walked out the door.
A later principal, Andrew Cooper, told Dellenty that students enrolled in the school (now a college) without having enough cultural diversity, which led to fear and bullying. Dellenty is working to reverse this lack of knowledge of other cultures, including that of the LGBT population.