Sexual and gender minority adolescents face health consequences not just from the distress of being stigmatized for their sexual and gender identities.
Bullying puts youth at increased risk for depression, suicidal indication, misuse of drugs and alcohol, risky sexual behavior, and can affect academics as well. For LGBTQ youth, that risk is even higher.
Research has shown that being “out” as an LGBTQ adult is associated with positive social adjustment. It has beneficial psycho social and developmental effects for youth, too.
However, being “out” or just being perceived as being LGBTQ, can put some youth at increased risk for bullying.
About 73 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) adolescents experience bias-based bullying for reasons beyond their sexual or gender identities, such as being bullied because of their body weight, race/ethnicity and religion, according to a US survey report.
Each type of bullying was positively related to health risk, including depression, sleep problems, stress, and unhealthy weight control behaviors.
When considering approaches to reduce health risk, we need to better understand the wide range of bias-based bullying experienced by SGM (sexual and gender minority) adolescents.
Given that multiple forms of bias-based bullying can worsen negative health behaviors.
Athena Schwartz from University of Utah shares her story with us:
In elementary school, I never fit in with just girls or just boys. I was never femme enough to fit in with the girls and I was never masc enough to hang out with the guys. For most of my elementary school years, people always hung out with their gendered groups.
I often found myself alone, and when I would try to fit in with others I would be made fun of. I remember for my seventh birthday, some girl gave me a “Thomas the Train” toy and told me she got that for me because that’s what boys like. I cried and cried to my mom because I wasn’t a boy.
I had always known that I wasn’t a girl either, but I didn’t know what I was until high school. Even when I came out as nonbinary, I still faced being bullied for not being ‘normal.’ I’ve never fit in the norm and I’m still working on fully understanding that it’s ok.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, and gay teens are 4 times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide. Moreover, the pain gay teenagers feel when they are taunted affects others around them: During adolescence, the mantra is, “I want to be the same.”
Teens feel a powerful need to fit in, and when they see a gay student getting bullied for some perceived “difference,” they worry that their own differences—and we all have them—will be targeted by bullies next.
I’m encouraged by the fact that so many celebrities—from Cyndi Lauper and Ellen DeGeneres to Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, and the entire cast of Glee—are raising public awareness of anti-gay bullying and its links to teen suicide.
What can be done?
There can be student-run organisations that unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth to build community and organise around issues impacting them in their schools and communities.
By reducing rates of targeted victimization, these organizations may help lower the risk of unhealthy behaviors in vulnerable adolescents.
These findings are particularly important as schools face new challenges in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As smartphones and social media usage increase, the possibility for bias-based cyberbullying does too.
Educators and student leaders can host virtual meetings and utilize online learning platforms to continue to foster social inclusion for adolescents at risk for victimization in the absence of in-person meetings.
Normalize gender as being a spectrum. Normalize introducing yourself with pronouns. Normalize LGBTQ+ identities. Bring more representation into your classrooms or communities and make sure you’re aware of the resources available to your queer/trans identifying students.
You don’t always need to have the answer, but failing to at least address the issue is not okay. Complacency only continues the perpetual cycle of bullying LGBTQ+ folk’s experience.
Believe your students and children.
If this bullying spills over into threats or violence then it should be reported to the police as a hate crime. Many police forces have specialist units to deal with these incidents.
If you are being bullied online or via social media, take screenshots and keep them as evidence to show your parents, the school or the police.
– It is important to build a safe environment for all youth, whether or not they are LGBTQ. All youth can thrive when they feel supported. Parents, schools, and communities can all play a role in helping LGBTQ youth feel physically and emotionally safe:
1) Build strong connections with LGBTQ youth to demonstrate acceptance and keep the lines of communication open. Often, LGBTQ youth feel rejected. It is important for them to know that their families, friends, schools, and communities support them.
2) Accept LBGTQ youth as they are, regardless of how they identify, reveal, or conceal their sexual identity.
3) Protect all youth’s privacy. Be careful not to disclose or discuss sexual identity issues with parents or anyone else, without the young person’s prior permission, unless there is an immediate threat to their safety or well being.
4) Provide interpersonal support to students by providing a safe place to talk about their sexual identity and navigate decisions about disclosing or concealing it with others.
5) Establish a safe environment at school. Schools can send a message that no one should be treated differently because of who they are or are perceived to be. Add sexual orientation and gender identity protection to school anti-discrimination policies.
6) Conduct social-emotional learning activities in school to foster peer-relationships and help students develop empathy.
What we learnt from this?
The language used against LGBTQ+ students is unconscionable. LGBTQ+ Students, like any other students deserve to be treated with tolerance, respect and dignity because the reality is, it should never matter what your sexual orientation or identity is.
Principles guiding the rights approach on sexual orientation relate to equality and non-discrimination. Human rights advocates and other activists seek to ensure social justice and guarantee the dignity of LGBTQ+’s because like anyone else an LGBTQ+ student is a person just like you are. The ONLY difference is their sexual orientation.
Maybe you’re different because you’re tall, underweight or dress differently than others. NO MATTER what our differences are everyone one deserves to be treated with respect and dignity!
-We cannot accept ignorance
-We cannot accept intolerance
-We cannot accept name-calling
-We must all respect each other
-We must all accept others
-We must all be tolerant of others
-We must all be allies
-We are ALL the same – NO MATTER! We are ALL people!
Let’s create a world of love, kindness, compassion and respect. There is no reason to call someone a name for any reason! If you don’t understand an LGBTQ+’s sexual orientation — learn more. Educate yourself! Educate others!
CELEBRATE our differences and HONOR our similarities! NO MATTER!
Photo by Mohit Tiwari
Instagram handle: @lucifer_1483