Bullied for being ‘gay’
Dr. Jeffrey Fishberger of The Trevor Project recently took readers’ questions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Several readers had questions about young people who were bullied for either being gay or being perceived as gay.
A youngster teased for being ‘girlie’
Q.I don’t know that my 11-year-old child is gay yet, but he does get teased for having mostly female friends and for being “girlie.” We talk about these issues when they come up, of course. The school is good about responding to the students who tease him.
My question is: Is there some way that he can respond to the bullies that will effectively shut them up?
A.Dr. Fishberger responds:
Unfortunately, your son is not alone in what he’s experiencing. Bullying and being teased for being what others perceive as “different” happens to many children. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered young people — or those perceived to be L.G.B.T. — have a much higher incidence of harassment at school. In fact, it’s estimated that more than a quarter of L.G.B.T. young people drop out of school because of this very harassment.
Your son is very fortunate to have parents who are so supportive and open to talking about these issues, something that many young people desperately need. In addition, it’s very encouraging that the staff at your son’s school responds to the students who tease him. Unfortunately, this does not occur in many schools, leaving those who are teased to feel that no one cares, that they have no recourse and worse, that they deserve what’s being done to them.
Fortunately, there are organizations that can work with your son’s school to help all the children understand the impact of their language and behavior.
Glsen (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), for example, works to ensure safe schools for all students through a variety of programs. The Day of Silence, for example, continues to grow each year, and hundreds of thousands of students now come together each year to participate. Another program, the No Name-Calling Week, provides schools with tools and inspiration to foster a dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying and name-calling in their communities.
Another resource that can be of help is The Trevor Project’s workshop program. The program incorporates the film “Trevor” (an Oscar-winning film about a gay high school student) along with a workshop guide (which can be downloaded free, or call 310-271-8845) to open up discussions with all students about how language and behavior can affect the way an individual feels about him- or herself. A supportive teacher, school counselor or school administrator can assist in implementing these programs in your son’s school.
A final note: It’s through the efforts of caring, supportive and loving parents like you that we can continue to address the horrific impact of homophobic bullying and thereby help young people to feel safe and comfortable to be open to be themselves.
Promoting tolerance in schools
Q.I am the G.S.A. adviser at a suburban high school in the California Bay Area, an area which is surprisingly conservative when it comes to L.G.B.T. issues (Prop 8 turned from a debate into a battle last year; there were counterprotests for Day of Silence).
My question is this: Philip Zimbardo (of Stanford Prison Experiment fame) has a new book and Web site — www.zimbardo.com/zimbardo.html — addressing the issue of why people go bad (Abu Ghraib)but also how they can be turned good — how people can become “heroes in waiting,” ready to step up at that moment when they are needed, as in bullying situations. How effective do you think such a push could be — trying to get students to step up against bullying of all kinds, not just L.G.B.T. — and what strategies have been most effective in creating a culture of tolerance in schools?
A.Dr. Fishberger responds:
With the growing data regarding the detrimental impact of bullying on all students and with many, but unfortunately not all, school districts and legislators attempting to address the issue of bullying in schools, your question is certainly very timely and relevant.
Young people who are bullied have greater levels of depression and anxiety, are more likely to miss school and have lower self-esteem. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students are three times as likely as non-L.G.B.T. students to say that they don’t feel safe in school, and 90 percent of L.G.B.T. students report being harassed in school. Two-thirds of these students never report these incidents because their belief that the staff would not be responsive.
To truly effect change, all involved parties, including school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and parents, as well as students, need to be educated about the effects of bullying and learn how to address bullying when it occurs. Antibullying school policies need to be developed as well as enforced, school staff need to be trained on recognizing and responding to bullying, and bullying prevention should be made part of the curriculum in every school beginning at the elementary level.
As noted above, organizations like Glsen (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and The Trevor Project work to ensure safe schools for all students through a range of in-school programs. You could work with your school staff as well as parents to help implement these programs to address the issue of bullying.
While we’re still awaiting data on the effectiveness of such programs, the experience at The Trevor Project has been very positive. After a session that explored the impact of language and actions at a high school in Queens, N.Y., for example, one teacher wrote us about how one student who had previously been disciplined for using homophobic language “spoke at length about how your session really opened his eyes and made him realize that ‘it is beyond unfair’ to tease people for who they are, or to say things that others might find deeply offensive, even if he thinks he’s just kidding.” We at The Trevor Project hear many stories like this.
Please continue your work to help young people feel safe and accepted and know that you are making a difference.
Counter bullying with violence?
Q.For those that get bullied, tell them to “grow a pair,” harden up and stand up for themselves. Bullies are normally cowards, and the mouth in the crowd is usually the most cowardly of them all. Train them to fight off the bully (and much more importantly get some moral backbone), and the bully will hopefully get a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry - a lesson that should have been taught to them by their parents.
A.Dr. Fishberger responds:
Bullying is very serious and has potentially devastating consequences, as it can make people feel unsafe and helpless, cause them to miss school and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Addressing bullying is vitally important and involves many approaches, including teaching everyone, including people who bully, about the impact of their language and behavior, confronting the behavior when it occurs and having school antibullying policies.
Countering bullying, however, definitely does not include fighting or any kind of physical violence. The onus of dealing with someone who bullies and confronting bullying in general should not be on the person being targeted. Rather, it should fall on school administrators, guidance counselors, teachers and parents to counter bullying.
Your implication that people who are bullied are not strong is completely off base and very far from the truth. On the contrary, those who are bullied are usually people who are strong enough to be themselves and who are trying to deal with the bullying on their own. Though staff members in some schools do intervene when they see an act of bullying, many L.G.B.T. young people find that administrators and teachers don’t respond when informed about bullying.
The lessons for all young people as well as adults can and should come from training about the effects of bullying. It’s important that teachers, counselors and parents learn how to intervene when bullying is seen and create a climate where bullying is not tolerated by anyone.
Books to combat bullying
Q.I am an eighth-grade English teacher in upstate N.Y. While our high school has a very well established Gay-Straight Alliance, our middle schools are still experiencing gay bullying. Of course, the teachers hear it in the hallways, but finding the source is often problematic.
Do you or other readers have suggestions for books that we could read in class to address some of these issues? It’s about time that we jettison some of the older books in our middle school canon and embrace some newer ones that address these current and seminal issues.
A.Dr. Fishberger responds:
It’s great that your high school has such a well-established Gay-Straight Alliance. This is certainly something that can give hope to L.G.B.T. students in the middle school who are dealing with gay bullying. But as you acknowledge, what the middle schools needs now is help in addressing the ongoing gay bullying.
Your students are very fortunate to have a teacher like you who is so concerned with this important issue and is exploring ways to help confront and deal with it. In addition to the programs noted above, the Glsen (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) Web site has an area called BookLink, where you’ll find a variety of books that address the issue of safe schools for all students. Some, like The Different Dragon*, and What MommiesDo Best/WhatDaddies Do Best?*, are for younger children. Others, like Crisis*, a collection of stories about growing up gay in America, are intended for educators.
The New York Times
6 October 2009
* These three books are in our bookstore. Please click on a flag: