Gay Bullying: Whats the Big Deal?

Michael Bell
Carlow University
Professional Counseling Program
Bullying: What’s the Big Deal?
  In the fall of 2011, a Rutgers University student was videotaped by his roommate while having sex with another male student and then leaked to the internet.  The student’s suicide brought national attention to the risks and effects of bullying.  Bullying is a very large issue in the gay and lesbian community, particularly among youth, and it has widespread negative, and potentially lethal, effects on its victims. In the past, not much was done to protect children from its effects and we are just now starting to see much needed legislation aimed at changing this.  As a victim of bullying myself, and as a member of the gay community, I can attest to its negative effects. I was harassed quite frequently during my middle and early high school career for being gay.  I was not only verbally harassed but physically as well.  I did not do as well as I could have in school and I suffered from school phobia.  I also suffered from low self-esteem even into early adulthood and battled with depression and relationship issues because of it. While my teachers were aware of the bullying, nothing was done to stop it.  In the past, not much was done to protect children from its effects and we are just now starting to see much needed legislation aimed at changing this.
Bullying is universal; however GLBT youth is particularly at risk. According to research, 61 percent of students asked claimed that they knew someone who was called gay or lesbian and 31 percent said that they themselves had been called gay or lesbian as a form of harassment (American Association of University Women [AAUW], 2000).  In another study, which included more than 7,500 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 22, the results were similar. Forty four percent of gay male participants said they had been victims of bullying, compared with 26 percent of heterosexuals. For girls, 40 percent of lesbians indicated they had been bullied, while just over 15 percent of heterosexuals reported the same (Bryner, 2010).
The effects of bullying can be quite profound because bullying often occurs during critical social development periods of an adolescent’s life.  Children who are rejected by their peers often display physical and relational aggression, tend to be hyperactive, inattentive, and exhibit impulsive behavior (Berke, 2010).  Bullied children often do poorly in school because they more often than not have poor attendance (Pearson Video). Bullying not only affects its victims academically and developmentally, it can also lead to violence and even suicide (Brody, 2011).  Gay and lesbian youth who are harassed because of their sexual preference are nearly three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers (AAUW, 2000).  The risk is not only to the victim it is also to the person doing the bullying and to others who are innocent bystanders. Children who have been harassed or physically attacked because of their sexual preference are six times more likely to carry a weapon to school (AAUW, 2000). If we examine past cases of school violence, such as incidents like Columbine, we see that most of the aggressors were rejected by their peers and were often the victims of bullying. Other incidents, like the murder of Matthew Shepherd, illustrate how deadly bullying can become. 
There are recognized patterns for both bullies and their victims.  Typically a victim of bullying often is introverted, suffers from low self-esteem, and does not conform to the typical accepted gender role set by society.  A recent article in the New York Times states that bullying is not as much about sexuality as it is about gender non conformity.  It goes on to claim that heterosexual youth is just as much at risk as homosexual youth if the victims display any type of atypical behavior (Brody, 2011). The person doing the bullying also exhibits certain characteristics. Most children who are bullies tend to also suffer from low self-esteem and exhibit ongoing social difficulties (Pearson Video).
Much can be done, and should be done, to stop bullying in schools. Studies done by the AAUW show that laws, policies, support programs, and inclusive curricula all seem to make a difference.  Students from schools with an inclusive policy report that others are less often harassed in their school, because of their sexual orientation or their gender expression (AAUW, 2000). Students who attend schools with inclusive curricula also report less absenteeism and students say that they feel safer while at school (AAUW, 2000). Studies also show that states that enacted antidiscrimination laws reported a reduction in suicide rates relative to the rates reported prior to enactment (AAUW, 2000). School based gay-straight alliance groups also have a positive effect on adolescents. Studies suggest that membership to these groups improve academic performance, increase comfort levels with sexual orientation, create a sense of safety, and create an enhanced sense of belonging to the school community (AAUW, 2000).
Bullying is a very large issue, which up until now, has been primarily ignored and its effects minimized.  Much work needs to be done to create laws and policies to protect today’s youth from its harmful effects.  Society is now only starting to take it seriously and hopefully the momentum will continue to put a stop to this very harmful and damaging act that so many children, not only in the GLBT community, but in the community at large, fall victim to.

American Association of University Women (2000). Hostile hallways: Bullying, teasing, and sexual
                harassment in school.  Retrieved from http://www.aauw.org/2000/hostile.html
Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan. (Fifth ed.). Boston: Pearson Education Inc.
Brody, J. E. (2011, January 3). Gay or straight, youths aren’t so different. New York Times, Retrieved from
Bryner, J. (210, February 3). Gay and lesbian teens bullied more than heterosexuals. Live science,          
Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/6048-gay-lesbian-teens-bullied-    heterosexuals.html

*Pearson video retrieved from: http://wps.ablongman.com/ab_berk_lifespan_mydevelopmentlab_5/132/33977/8698261.cw/index.html

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