By Michael Nam
Photo by Shutterstock
Long before children identify as being gay, lesbian or bisexual, they receive an elevated level of bullying in comparison to their peers, according to a longitudinal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In a climate where legislators and extremist activists have yet to give up on attacking LGBT rights, these findings add emphasis for educators and health experts to keep a closer eye on the issue of bullying in school-age children.
Researchers followed children in public schools in and around three different cities, surveying them in 5th, 7th and 10th grade. Results showed that in 5th grade, subjects who would go on to identify as being a member of a “sexual minority” reported bullying at a significantly higher rate than the children who were heterosexual:
As early as 5th grade, before most youth are likely to be aware of or to disclose their sexual orientation, girls and boys who 5 years later were considered to be sexual minorities on the basis of self-reported information were more likely than other children to report that they had been bullied and victimized. Although bullying and victimization in the two groups declined with age, a finding that is consistent with prior research, sexual-minority youth experienced higher levels across grades than other children did.
Though the study did not delve deeply into the reasoning of those doing the bullying, researchers have a guess as to why such aggression may occur even before the explicit realization of sexual identity.
“Some kids may be considered by the bullies to be a more girlish boy, or a more boyish girl,” said lead author, Dr. Mark Schuster, to the Associated Press.
There is also the possibility that gay bashing does not stem from peer bullying alone, but also from the national discourse surrounding LGBT issues.
Bullying people based on their sexual identity or gender does not exist solely among school kids, as recent legislative pushes from those masquerading bigotry as an expression of “religious freedom” have shown. The routine demonizing of an underrepresented class comes from as high up as political leaders like Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana or hate groups such as the Family Research Council.
According to the 2013 National School Climate Survey from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), long-term bullying of LGBT students has been an indicator of negative outcomes in terms of education and wellbeing over time.
LGBT students who experienced high levels of in-school victimization:
Had lower GPAs than other students;
Were less likely to plan to pursue any post-secondary education;
Were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month because of safety concerns;
Were less likely to feel a sense of belonging to their school community; and
Had lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression.
GLSEN addresses these issues by employing support programs as well as encouraging student action, such as promoting the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
Just last month, the problem proved serious enough for the U.S. Department of Education to issue guidance for schools to utilize Title IX tools in order to combat harassment of LGBT students:
Title IX protects students, employees, applicants for admission and employment, and other persons from all forms of sex discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity. All students (as well as other persons) at recipient institutions are protected by Title IXregardless of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, part- or full-time status, disability, race, or national originin all aspects of a recipient’s educational programs and activities.
While school bullying has been receiving wide media coverage in recent years, the nature of the study suggests that clinicians and educators should closely monitor their young charges for signs of bullying even before any issues regarding their sexuality manifest.