Bullying in school is not new. About one in five kids are bullied at some point in their teen years. The number of kids participating in this harmful activity is nearly as high. Bullying is so common that every young person who attends school is exposed to it. Those who are not bullies or being bullied see it happening around them. Bullying happens in hallways, cafeterias, parking lots, in the gym, on sports field, and everywhere kids gather on school grounds. Sadly, it even happens inside classrooms, where students should feel safe and protected.
Certain students are at higher risk of bullying. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) kids are bullied more than any other group. More than 60 per cent of these teens report hearing anti-gay language in school settings. Most say they hear kids their own age saying these things. Unfortunately, hateful ideas about gay or transgender people can also come from teachers, administrators and school staff. Although this is not exactly bullying, it is very discouraging for LGBTQ kids. It creates an environment where they feel uncomfortable and disliked.
With human beings, there is no such thing as average. Everyone is unique and different, and that is worth celebrating and appreciating. Too often, kids get the idea that differences are somehow shameful – that people who do not fit in perfectly do not deserve respect or understanding. Teens pick up these ideas from their friends and classmates. Unfortunately, these attitudes are also common among adults and in society. Even in 2015, prejudice still influences the way supposedly mature and grown people think and behave.
Prejudice has existed against LGBTQ people for a long time. While the situation has improved, LGBTQ people of all ages are still frequently exposed to mean-spirited words and behaviour. About 85 per cent of LGBTQ adolescents say they have been insulted, ridiculed, made fun of and called names while at school. Even worse, almost one in five reports being punched, kicked or beaten up for no reason other than sexual orientation. Sometimes these attacks take place elsewhere, but the bullying that leads to these acts almost always begins at school.
Many schools have made a big effort to discourage bullying. A few do a good job of stopping some of it. Still, many anti-bullying rules that schools adopt are very general. They do not specifically mention abuse directed at LGBTQ kids.
It should be common sense that bullying is always wrong. However, some teens come from homes where they are exposed to prejudice against LGBTQ people, or have friends who express anti-gay ideas. They too may believe that it is somehow acceptable to bully this one group.
The bullying and abuse LGBTQ kids experience in school causes an enormous amount of pain. The damage to an individual’s sense of security can be felt long after an incident of bullying.
Kids being bullied at school must return day after day. This leaves them constantly worried about when it might happen again. Feeling there is no escape from danger places them under tremendous stress. Naturally this anxiety can affect their attitudes, behaviour, performance in school, and mental health.
Some disturbing statistics show how deeply LGBTQ teens are affected when they become targets for physical or verbal abuse.
These facts are dark and scary. LGBTQ teens experience bullying because just one difference sets them apart from others — which can be said about anyone. No two people are alike. We all have special characteristics that make us unique. Most people know this and accept it. Many people enjoy being around others who come from different backgrounds and have distinct interests, experiences and views.
However, differences can also be used as an excuse for bullying and abuse. Even after the bullying ends, the effects linger.
Certain strategies have helped schools succeed in reducing bullying against LGBTQ youth.
When kids in proactive schools see bullying going on, they step forward to put a stop to it. They let the bullies know their behaviour is not acceptable. Once LGBTQ teens know their classmates are on their side, they usually feel more comfortable standing up for themselves too. This makes it very difficult for bullies to get away with ugly and cruel behaviour.
Creating a friendly, enjoyable and welcoming atmosphere in school for each student, including LGBTQ teens, is everyone’s responsibility. Prejudice breaks hearts and damages healthy minds. It is an enemy we should all fight.
No one should be abused. No school community should be satisfied until they have done everything in their power to eliminate bullying, regardless of the reasons why these attacks occur. Young people from the LGBTQ community must go to school each day. They should know they will be treated with respect, consideration and kindness, just like everyone else.