Friday, October 31, 2008

Sue Scheff: Gay Harassment

“People would push me into lockers or trip me in the hallways or throw rocks at me inside the school or throw trash at me.”

– Josh, 15 years old

Fifteen-year-old Josh is gay. He’s so afraid of bullies that he’s asked us not to show his face or reveal his full name.

“People would push me into lockers or trip me in the hallways or throw rocks at me inside the school or throw trash at me,” he recalls.

Josh is not alone. According to a report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nine out of 10 gay teenagers are harassed at school.

Josh was and that’s why he decided to tell his parents the truth.

“I’m gay,” he told them. “I’m getting harassed. I’m very scared in school right now—please make it stop.”

Marnie Lynch, Josh’s mom, says, “I don’t know that I can even describe the pain that I felt.”

Josh’s parents felt hurt, angry and scared.

“What my worst fear was, is that yes, he could be brutally beaten or killed because of his sexual orientation,” Lynch says.

But experts say there are ways to prevent violence against gay and lesbian students.

“It’s very important that all youth who are being harassed let the (school) administration know about it somehow, whether it’s through their parents or going directly to the administrator, or telling a teacher about it,” says Steve Epstein, a counselor who works with gay teens.

Epstein says that Josh’s parents did the right thing. They demanded action from the school’s principal and soon afterwards, the bullying ended.

“You should be able to do and be whomever you want to be,” Josh says, “and not have to endure harassment and pain and struggles from other people.”

Tips for Parents

Sexual orientation in adolescents has previously been linked to increased rate of victimization. Previous studies have found that those students who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had a disproportionate risk for problem behaviors, including suicide and victimization. A study by Penn State found that risk is even greater when those kids feel rejected at school.

The recent survey showed that homosexual adolescents were nearly twice as likely as straight adolescents to report a history of violent attacks and witnessing violence. In addition, gay and lesbian youth were reported to be 2.5 times more likely to report that they had taken part in violence themselves. Bisexual adolescents reported no increased levels of perpetrating violence, but were more likely than heterosexual adolescents to report witnessing violence or being victimized.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) cautions parents that “gay and lesbian teens can become depressed, socially isolated, withdrawn from activities and friends, have trouble concentrating, and develop low self-esteem. They may also develop depression.” It is important for parents of gay and lesbian teens to understand their teen’s sexual orientation and provide support. The AACAP encourages parents and family members to seek understanding and support from organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

The American Psychological Association provides these tips for teens who fear they may be a target of violence:

Above all, be safe. Don’t spend time alone with people who show warning signs of violence, such as those with a history of frequent physical fights, and those who have announced threats or plans for hurting others.

Tell someone you trust and respect about your concerns and ask for help ( a family member, guidance counselor, teacher, school physiologist, coach, clergy, or friend).

Get someone to protect you. Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
American Psychological Association
American Public Health Association
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Penn State University