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The Reality of Bullying for LGBT Youth & Allies: It’s Everywhere

school-stock2Two major studies on bullying among school aged children have been released this month. On March 4th, the Associated Press reported on a study funded by the U.S. Dept. of Justice which found a sharp decrease in the percentage of children who reported being physically bullied over the past year – from 22% in 2003 to 15% in 2008. These findings are positive and at first glance you might even think that the bullying problem has been solved. Many attribute this decrease in bullying to the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs implemented following the Columbine shootings in 1999. If you look closer you notice that the study did not address bullying related to sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Thanks to the work of organizations like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, we have a clear picture of school climate for LGBT youth and their allies and it’s not good. In fact, it is scary. Check out these stats from GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey, a national survey of LGBT youth conducted every two years:

  • How many feel unsafe in school? Over half of the students surveyed felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation (60.8%) and more than a third because of their gender expression (38.4%)
  • How many had been verbally harassed? Almost 9 of every 10 students surveyed were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation (86.2%) and two thirds of students because of their gender expression.
  • How many were physically harassed? Almost half of students surveyed were physically harassed because of their sexual orientation (44.1%) and 3 of every 10 students because of their gender expression (30.4%).

So, what’s the deal? If schools are focusing on bullying prevention more than they have in the past, why has bullying of LGBT youth stayed stable since 2001? Well, for starters these anti-bullying programs – like the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program discussed in the AP article – by and large don’t talk explicitly about the reasons why youth are bullied. There’s no mention of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or other characteristics like race, family structure, socio-economic status and ability. These anti-bullying programs are a great start but to create a truly positive school climate, schools must help students learn to understand and respect ways in which we are all alike and ways in which we are different.  That's why Welcoming Schools helps elementary schools clearly address family diversity (including families with LGBT parents), gender stereotyping and bullying rooted in anti-LGBT bias. The second study released this month, conducted by Iowa State University, focuses on cyber bullying of LGBT youth and their allies. The study found that 54 percent of these youth report being cyber bullied – either for being LGBT or for associating with LGBT youth. Among the LGBT students, 45 percent have felt depressed as a result of being bullied and one in four report having suicidal thoughts. Cyber bullying has been linked to the suicides of several youth over the last few years (You may recall the tragic story of Megan Meier from 2006 that brought cyber bullying to the attention of many of us for the first time.). The survey also shows that over half of the respondents hesitate to tell their parents about this bullying (parents, check out some resources on cyber bullying). So, thank you to Robyn Cooper and Warren Blumenfeld at ISU for conducting this study – it will be officially released in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy later this month. Hopefully it will lead to creative and effective solutions to the threat cyber bullying poses to the youngest members of our community. The sad reality is that the online world, which for so many of us provided our first connection to the LGBT community, can now be a very negative place for LGBT youth and their friends. Bullying is pervasive in the real world and in cyber space.

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