What is Anti-Gay Bullying?
Anti-gay bullying refers to being picked on, or physically or verbally harassed, because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. It is a form of homophobia and can affect people who are actually GLBT as well as those who are perceived to be.
What Are the Effects of Being Bullied for Being Gay?
There are many negative effects for victims. Many develop low self-esteem. Some become self-hating. In extreme cases, a young person might consider suicide. Additionally, if it happens at school, as is often the case, learning can be seriously affected.
According to Mental Health America:
- Gay and lesbian teens are at high risk [for mental health problems] because ‘their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that surround them,’ not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation.
- Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
- Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse.
- GLBT students are more apt to skip school due to the fear, threats, and property vandalism directed at them.
- Twenty-eight percent of gay students will drop out of school. This is more than three times the national average for heterosexual students.
- GLBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.
Are There Laws to Protect GLBT Youth From Bullying?
Though 39 states have anti-bullying laws, only seven have laws that specifically protect GLBT students from bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These include, California, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. North Carolina has passed legislation on anti-gay bullying but it is still waiting approval in the state Senate.
Recently, legislation that would amend federal anti-bullying law to include sexual orientation and gender identity was re-introduced in Congress. This is called the Safe Schools Improvement Act and it would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to require schools that receive federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment. This would include bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as race and religion.
What Can You Do if You Are the Victim of Anti-Gay Bullying
Victims of bullying often feel like there is nothing they can do. But having an idea of how to respond to harassment is definitely preferable to feeling as if you are completely powerless. The ideas below come from the Safe Schools Coalition. They may not solve all your bullying problems, but they are definitely a start!
- Speak up and tell the bully to back off, but don't escalate the situation by calling the offender names or threatening to get physical.
- Defuse the situation, if it seems to be getting physical ("Never mind; let's forget it."), and go to a safe place if you can.
- If you think you are going to be physically injured, think about whether you could use your voice and your body to protect yourself by yelling, running away, fighting back, or attracting someone's attention.
- Sometimes people decide that not resisting is the best way to minimize physical injury or further danger. That's ok.
- Tell an adult. Maybe there's an adult at school whom you trust … a particular counselor or teacher, the nurse, the principal, a school security person, or whomever you trust most. If that doesn't work, ask their supervisors for help. Go to the school board if necessary.
- Maybe you feel you need to go outside the school for help, to a parent or guardian or a family friend. Whomever seems safest, do tell an adult. As understanding as a friend your own age may be, there are some times when only an adult can provide protection or legal advice or that sort of thing.
- Write down everything that happened (who said and did what, the time and place, and who was involved, including witnesses).
- Know that sexually assaulting somebody or beating somebody up is a crime. In a number of states, so is attacking or threatening a person or damaging their property because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, disabilities, etc. You have the right to report the attack to the police or Child Protective Services.
- In the end, your safety is what matters. Leaving is not the same as failing. Sometimes your only alternative may be transferring to a safer learning environment.
- It isn't legal to just drop out if you are under the age of sixteen, and you deserve an education! So contact your school district if you need help making arrangements for a safer place to learn, a different school or home-schooling or a GED program.
What Can You Do if You See Someone Else Being Targeted?
Often people see others getting bullied and don't do anything, either because they are afraid that speaking up will make them a victim or because they just don't know what to do. But speaking up and calling out bullies and harassers is one of the best ways to stop a bully in his tracks. Other ideas are to interrupt homophobic jokes or comments and let the person making the remark know that they aren't cool or funny. You should also get help from supportive teachers, or other students. Because, really, wouldn't you want someone to have your back if you were the victim?
Why Bullying Bites
Some people think that bullying builds character, or teaches kids how to stand up for themselves. Really, though, bullying just destroys a person's self-esteem and for GLBT teens, it adds additional burdens to an already confusing time of life.