Study shows harmful effects of school bullying on young members of LGBT community

Nearly three years ago, the death of 15-year-old Lawrence King shocked the nation and brought the plight of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered teenagers into the spotlight. @@[email protected]@

Within weeks of revealing that he was gay, King endured severe harassment from a group of classmates including the 14-year-old boy who allegedly shot King in a computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif. @@,0,[email protected]@

A recent study by San Francisco State University has shown a direct correlation between bullying in schools and long-term physical and mental repercussions affecting LGBT young adults. (Aaron Marineau/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Although this is a rather extreme case of school victimization, recently a study conducted by researchers at San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project on 245 LGBT young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area revealed that “school victimization resulting from LGBT status was significantly associated with negative psychosocial development.”@@

“Gender-nonconforming youth face many obstacles and challenges in school that they carry with them into young adulthood,” the study states. “We found that the negative impact of specifically homophobic school victimization continues into the young adult years and affects the quality of life and capacity to enjoy life.”

Although many states across the nation have strict anti-discrimination laws related to sexual orientation and identity, Family Acceptance Project director Caitlin Ryan said the real challenge lies in getting school administrators to enforce these laws in an educational space. @@[email protected]@

“I think this is a particularly longstanding problem, because there are thousands of school districts in the United States,” Ryan said. “We know that even in some states that have strong anti-discrimination laws protecting students in school because of their known or perceived LGBT identity, discrimination and victimization can still take place. So it’s a question of enforcing the law, if there is a law in place, and if there isn’t a law, for schools really to understand that victimization has a very powerful effect on a school.”

Because of the severity of the violence and the long-term effects that LGBT young adults endure, Ryan insists on addressing the act of bullying as a form of harmful victimization.

“I feel that bullying tends to minimize the severe impact of abusing another person because of personal characteristics,” Ryan said. “When people think of bullying, historically they think of maybe pushing someone into a mud puddle at school or pushing and shoving them and taking their personal property, but they don’t think of the sustained harassment over a period of time that we know is related to very high levels of distress.”

Ryan said one of the ways to create a safe environment for students is for school administrators to have clear policies on victimization based on sexual identity and have the ability to enforce these policies. What’s more, having training widely available for teachers and staff and an effective way to report discriminatory incidents would also be helpful in establishing a protected environment.

Although Ryan said there are a lot more resources available to LGBT students, she noted that some schools may not have adequate programs that allow students to address personalized issues on a face-to-face basis. However, many organizations have become specifically tailored over time to reach out to a certain demographic in the LGBT population.

An example of this is Hudson Taylor, an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University, who recently started an advocacy organization in January called Athlete Ally, which provides support for LGBT athletes. Although the organization is still in its infancy, the 23-year-old said more than 3,000 people worldwide, including LGBT allies, school administrators, coaches and closeted athletes, have rallied around the cause and praised its proactive efforts. @@[email protected]@

Taylor, who has wrestled for the past 19 years of his life and identifies as straight, said he had always heard homophobic and derogatory terms being used on the many teams that he was a part of but really didn’t take any action against it until some of his friends gradually began to come out to him and his entire class while he was a theater major.

“Month to month, I would have a classmate and friend who would come out to the class and it would be this wonderful celebration of self, and that was something really new and unique for me to see,” Taylor said. “It really affected me in a major way, because to go back to the locker room two hours later and hear that conduct and language really started to rub me the wrong way.”

Taylor became the fourth repeat All-American in University of Maryland history after earning his second consecutive third-place finish at the NCAA Championships and sparked controversy last year when people began to notice the Human Rights Campaign sticker that was attached to his headgear during competitions. However, Taylor explained much of the controversy centered on the political implications of the organization rather than the ethical treatment of those in the LGBT community. @@

“When the conversation is about respect and how we treat one another, pretty much everyone is 100 percent supportive,” Taylor said. “I think that’s something that people just get.”

Although there are currently organizations that are actively working to make sports a safer place for gay athletes, Taylor said his main mission is to reach out to straight athletes in order to create a more accepting environment

“By speaking directly to the straight athletes and making them conscious, aware and hopefully vocal, I think that will change the culture of athletics and making it the safe space that I know it should be,” Taylor said.


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