Sexual Orientation Bullying : Definition and Prevention
What Is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation is a person’s sexual identity as it relates to the gender to which they are attracted. Sexual identity terms have been abbreviated and are now commonly referred to as LGBTQ or the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ does not include heterosexual individuals. Heterosexual or “Straight” individuals are attracted to the opposite sex.
Homosexual terms are each represented by a corresponding letter of the alphabet:
L – Lesbian – woman who is attracted to females.
G – Gay – male who is attracted to males
B – Bisexual – male or female attracted to both sexes.
T – Transgender – A person whose self-identity doesn’t conform to conventional typing. An example would be a person whose gender was designated at birth based genitalia but feels that the true self is the opposite sex or a combination of both sexes. (Non-identification or non-presentation as the sex one was assigned at birth).
Q – Queer – An umbrella term for persons who feel outside of norms in regards to gender or sexuality but do not wish to specifically self – identify as L, G, B or T.
When a child or teen is being bullied because of gender associations or preferences of any type it is referred to as sexual orientation bullying.
Bullying is an aggressive and unwanted behavior inflicted upon a vulnerable child or teen and is usually repetitive. It can be physical, emotional, verbal, or written as a text message or email. Foul or explicit language, hitting, tripping, ignoring, staring, pushing, name calling, stalking, are all examples of bully tactics.
“Cyberbullying” has become a convenient way for kids and teens to hide behind a screen while sending texts or emails containing defamatory, derogatory, or ridiculing content.
Gender identity and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or questioning) bullying begins at a very young age. When children who bully others perceive gender-related differences in another child, bullies will aggressively target that child (or children) with the intention of hurting or overpowering him or her.
Why Does It Happen?
Sex is assigned as male or female at birth based upon observation of the baby’s genitalia. From there, the baby is described as a boy or girl usually for the rest of its life. From the moment of birth, the child’s name, clothing colors, clothing styles, toys, haircuts, and mainstream-acceptable behavior is predominantly based upon the child’s assigned gender.
At a very early age, children are influenced by parents and teachers to recognize commonly accepted differences between boys and girls.
However, when a child or teen behaves in a way that deviates from the established gender norms h/she is often labeled by other children who are uncomfortable with or uneducated about the differences. The vulnerable child becomes a magnet for bully activity.
A bullying child doesn’t need much of a reason to harass another child and one with obvious differences is a standing target. Sometimes the bullying child doesn’t even know why he or she does it. Underlying issues within the child that have not been identified may be causing him or her to act out.
Sexual Orientation Bullying Happens Most Often in School
Bullying of all types can happen anywhere there’s a group of kids. It happens at school, church, youth groups, after-school activities, sports teams, in the community; bullying can take place anywhere and has no boundaries. Sexual orientation bullying happens most often in school.
School should be a place where kids are safe but unfortunately, it is not the case. Numerous surveys have been conducted with students, teachers and parents about bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students and the results are alarming.
“According to the gay bullying statistics from the (LGBT) community, about one fourth of all students from elementary age through high school are the victims of bullying and harassment while on school property because of their race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately the primary reason for bullying is due to something that may set them apart from the norm, and that includes sexual orientation.” http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/gay-bullying-statistics.html
- Bullied kids tend to develop difficulties with their studies and have trouble developing peer relationships. The situation is compounded and kids may become depressed and have thoughts of suicide.
- The results of one report suggested that 26 percent of male 12th graders who were the target of LGBTQ bullying had experienced thoughts of suicide within the previous year.
- Whether or not suicide and depression is higher amongst LGBTQ adolescents and teens has not yet been fully proven but most parents and school officials believe it to be true.
- Being on the receiving end of bullying in any form is damaging in some way to every child struggling with his or her identity.
We should never take bullying lightly. Any action that causes an individual to feel threatened, shamed, or afraid for any reason should be recognized as an unacceptable behavior. Parents, teachers and adults in general should never turn the other cheek to the bad behavior of a bully.
LGBT kids can help themselves tremendously by building strong connections with their parents and families, peers, teachers, and clergy. They should seek support whenever needed from friends, fellow students, school administration and communities. Participating in LGBTQ groups can help build inner strength and confidence when kids know they are not alone.
Schools can incorporate bullying-prevention practices into their school policies.
- Require every school staff member or official who witnesses or hears bullying or harassment of any type to take appropriate action and to report the incidents.
- School administrators must commit to investigating every incident of bullying.
- Provide ongoing policy and procedures training and education to staff and students.
- Get input from LGBTQ students on what they believe is needed to prevent bullying.
- Create a culture of respect for all.
- Provide guidance and support for kids who are bullied.
- Provide resources and support for kids doing the bullying to help them make changes and to establish any underlying cause for the behavior.
Parents need to pay close attention to what’s going on with their kids. Some kids are embarrassed to admit they have been bullied; others feel comfortable talking to their parents. It’s up to parents to recognize signs in your child that tell you something is wrong.
- When two kids have an argument or fight between each other and there’s no imbalance of power, it’s probably not bullying. Kids do disagree and are almost always able to resolve their own conflicts. In the case where an unresolved disagreement lingers, peer mediation or the school counselor can help.
- However, when a child complains of unwanted behavior from other kids whether it’s physical, emotional, verbal, or written, it is imperative for parents to take notice and to investigate the situation further. Ignoring the situation or writing it off as “kids will be kids” can lead to the child or teen feeling alone or distraught or worse.
- Contact the appropriate person at your child’s school for assistance. If the activity is taking place outside of the school and is unmanageable, the authorities may need to be contacted. Since most bullying takes place at school, talking to the principal or school counselor is a great place to start.
- Stay connected with your child. Allow your child freedom of expression without suppressing their sexual orientation or preferences. Tune in to who your child believes s/he is and accept him or her. Your acceptance goes a long way to building your child’s inner strength and feeling of security.
- Be aware of mood changes or behavioral changes in your child that may indicate bullying.
- A loss of friends or lack of interest in spending time with friends
- A drop in grades
- A loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed or dropping out of activities at school
- Torn or missing clothing, shoes
- Missing toys, books, or school supplies
- Support bully prevention programs in your child’s school and in the community. Participate in anti-bullying campaigns when they are conducted. If a bully prevention program doesn’t exist where you live, consider starting one with other concerned citizens and parents.
It’s important for kids to be accepted regardless of their sexual orientation. They have a right to be who they were meant to be and the right to feel safe no matter who or what that is. As adults, we can all help prevent bullying.
Sources: http://www.stopbullying.gov/ www1.nmha.org/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov