LGBTQ Students Bullying in Schools

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 7
Words: 2086
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College

Introduction

Bullying has been a prevalent form of violence among teenagers for many decades. To some, it is interpreted as a part of growing up. Such reasoning does not consider the repercussions these aggressive behaviors have on the child being picked on occasionally. It is even worse when the child being bullied is already aware of society’s heterosexual bias. Teenagers who identify as either gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning LGBTQ experience the same form of bullying as other teenagers do. However, it is more hurtful to them because the society they live in already judges them. Sexual orientation has always defined how society treats or views people. It is worse now with the emergence and spread of smartphones and social media. In Canada, 4% of teens self-identify as LGBTQ; questioning or accepting their sexual orientation takes a toll on them, especially when combined with the other adolescent stress they undergo. Therefore, bullying in school represents an interpersonal conflict that affects not only a student’s mental state but also the body. When it comes to LGBT teenage students, bullying might appear as a special tendency, but the emotional consequences of such a bullied student exacerbate gender inequality. LGBT teenagers bullying in schools results in painful experiences based on severe adverse outcomes.

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Understanding of Bullying

Bullying refers to an intentionally mean and repeated behavior in a situation of a perceived power imbalance between the bully and the victim. There are diverse forms of bullying, including physical; examples are threats of violence, hitting, and kicking; verbal, such as name-calling; relational such as spreading rumors and social exclusion; and cyber, which occurs via texts or social media. Recent studies have formed a distinction between two forms of bullying: general bullying and bias-based bullying. General bullying refers to aggressive behaviors where the reasons behind the bullying are not based on any kind of bias. This kind of bullying victimization has reduced among teenagers in recent years (Gower et al., 2018). On the other hand, bias-based bullying refers to behaviors where the motivation for bullying is rooted in bias-related to personal traits such as gender expression, race, sexual orientation, and ability status.

Historically, research has always focused on individual behaviors associated with bullyings, such as hitting and name-calling. The last decade has seen a new breed of researchers that have instead chosen to explore motivations and stigma underlying bullying behaviors and shift the focus to bias-based bullying. Bias-based bullying could have more negative impacts on the victims than general bullying. LGBTQ teenagers are more likely to be targeted by bias-based bullying compared to their straight, cisgender peers. It is important to note that this bullying is not only tied to their sexual orientation and gender identity; instead, it includes their race, weight/appearance, and ability. This means that teenagers who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to be bullied for their ethnicity/race, ability status, and appearance compared to their straight peers.

All children of school-going age are exposed to bullying because of the dynamics of an unequal balance of power that is common in most peer relationships. Bullying is at its peak during the adolescent stage. Teenagers at this stage undergo growth spurts and puberty changes that, if not properly handled, could lead to self-destruction. Some resolve to bully others into coping with the difficult situations at home, feel powerful, become popular, prove themselves to their peers, and/or pay back. As a result, they decide to bully others and, thus, may commit crimes that, to a certain extent, involve bullying behaviors (Rosen & Nofziger, 2019). According to research, LGBTQ teenagers are a group that is particularly susceptible to bullying (Allen, 2014). Bullying has detrimental effects on all teenagers, both long term and short term. It is more for LGBTQ students as they already have more burden of fighting to prove their worth to society as they are looked down upon. With the growing understanding of the harm bullying causes to this group of adolescents, there is a need and direction for future research.

While it is clear that the problem of bullying against LGBTQ students exists in Canada, it is possible to imagine an opinion stating that bullying is an inherent part of the school experience. In other words, bullying can be viewed as a potentially inescapable form of abuse that must be simply taken as a given. Such a perspective deserves to be considered, but the results of studies exploring the effects of bullying on students, particularly from the LGBTQ community, show the detrimental effect it poses. Research demonstrates that due to bullying, the majority of LGBTQ students view school as an unsafe environment for their gender expression, which forces them to miss certain school days (Berry, 2018). As a result, due to bullying and the inability to study in a safe setting, students’ academic performance may worsen. Studies highlight the fact that LGBTQ students who missed school because of being harassed and bullied by others in their school, on average, received lower grades than their peers (Berry, 2018). Thus, the issue of LGBTQ bullying must also be addressed from the perceptive of improving the academic success of students.

The Risk Factors and The Protective Factors

While bullying is a phenomenon that affects all LGBTQ students, there are factors that contribute to it, as well as those which protect against it. The gender of the student plays an important factor in the likelihood of them being subject to bullying or any other similar activities by their peers. Research indicates that female students are less likely to experience bullying than male ones, which may highlight the notion that bullying establishes and strengthens masculinity (Rosen & Nofziger, 2019). At the same time, it is important to note that researchers agree that there are many forms of masculinity, but the prevalent one is called hegemonic, which involves exhibiting power and violence (Rosen & Nofziger, 2019). As a result, whenever male student does not adhere to a standard way of conduct, they risk facing bullying by peers who punish them for not behaving in a traditionally masculine manner. Thus, a behavior that differs from the socially accepted form of masculinity can be a considerable risk factor, especially for male students who are expected to act in a masculine fashion.

At the same time, there are risk factors that are applicable to both male and female students, which can significantly contribute to them facing an act of bullying. One of them is family rejection which manifests itself in the refusal of parents to accept their LGBTQ child as a family member who deserves affection and warmth (Russell & Fish, 2016). In other words, LGBTQ children facing family rejection cannot receive any support from their parents and actually share with them their story of bullying and end up being powerless. Parents play an important role in protecting their children from peers’ harassment since they can communicate the concerns of the child to teachers and school administration. Yet, in an environment involving family rejection, the student remains alone and has no people to seek help from. Moreover, research also shows that the absence of institutionalized protection on the part of school authorities also constitutes a considerable risk factor for bullying (Russell & Fish, 2016). Essentially, in such cases, LGBTQ students cannot receive any assistance from the school’s superintendent, headmasters, or school psychologist.

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There are also factors that can actually protect LGBTQ students from bullying and enable them to avoid being subject to harassment of any form. The most important protective factor is the existence of special laws which protect people, including children, from bullying in different social contexts. Studies show that states which implement such anti-bullying legislation report lower rates of harassment and victimization against members of the LGBTQ community (Russell & Fish, 2016). Therefore, it is clear that the local governments have the capacity to be the agents of change and can influence the situation with bullying by implementing certain protective laws. At the same time, there are other protective factors, including the existence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in schools which are tasked with improving the relationship between LGBTQ and other students (Russell & Fish, 2016). Basically, GSAs can serve as a platform for facilitating the dialogue and mutual understanding of students with different orientations enabling both groups to explore their perspectives. Such associations contribute to bonding between LGBTQ and straight students and thus decrease the probability of bullying.

How to Improve Interventions

As mentioned above, there are certain factors that can positively contribute to the reduction of instances of bullying against LGBTQ students in a school environment. Still, additional measures can be implemented in order to make the existing interventions more successful and ensure that the factor of bullying is minimized. The first fact which must be recognized is that bullying is an activity that is not practiced solely by students’ peers. Researchers state that discrimination and prejudice against LGBTQ youth also can be perpetuated by school authorities, as well as teachers (Ferber et al., 2017). Thus, the existing policies focusing on the eradication of any type of harassment should be targeted not only at students themselves but also at the school staff members. School teachers and superintendents have the capacity to provide institutional protection to students facing bullying as a result of their gender or orientation. Therefore, such professionals must be offered training in creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ students. The goal of such an intervention is the establishment of institutional protections for all LGBTQ students to let them feel comfortable in expressing themselves.

There is already evidence that highlights the idea that creating an environment where LGBTQ students would feel welcome and protected is associated with a decrease in bullying incidents. Schools with inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies were found to have an environment that was friendly toward LGBTQ students (Russell & Fish, 2016). Thus, the existing evidence must be applied more extensively across the entire country, which implies mandating schools to adopt SOGI-inclusive policies and training. Educators, in this case, are extremely important individuals since they interact with students on a daily basis and can see all of their problems. Yet, if educators decide to engage in discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ students, schools need to introduce zero-tolerance policies toward them. In other words, teachers or school authorities must be dismissed from their positions instantly if they are found to be engaging in discrimination and especially bullying against LGBTQ students. Such a measure will make educators careful in their treatment of all students and understand that their actions can entail risks for their career success and ability to work in schools.

A positive environment for LGBTQ students in schools and youth organizations also can be achieved by creating a position of an LGBTQ inclusion specialist. According to studies, sexual minority students are more likely to experience safety in situations when they have a role model or a person to talk to about their issues (Allen, 2014). Such a person also can be a member of the school staff and an LGBTQ individual who is willing to help students to solve their problems, including those concerning bullying. Essentially, an LGBTQ inclusion specialist will be able to monitor the situation in school, voice their concerns, and contribute to the creation of a friendly environment for students. Finally, it is also vital to introduce federal legislation which would mandate all schools across the country to create policies against discrimination against LGBTQ students. Such an initiative will help to solve the problem of bullying not only in certain schools in the country but in all of them.

Conclusion

The issue of bullying targeted against LGBTQ students continues to be relevant in Canada, and research shows that there are certain factors that both promote and reduce it. First of all, bullying is a result of power imbalance in a group of people, which can manifest itself in physical, verbal, and relational forms. LGBTQ students subject to bullying and harassment may experience social isolation and academic performance failures. Peers are the main people who engage in bullying, but in certain schools, there also can be educators and authorities who do it. Research shows that in order to reduce bullying in schools, policies promoting a friendly environment for LGBTQ students should be implemented. An inclusive environment can be achieved with the help of anti-bullying legislation and Gay-Straight Alliances. In order to improve the existing interventions against LGBTQ students’ bullying, the government needs to pass federal laws mandating all schools to implement inclusivity policies and training for staff members.

References

Allen, K. (2014). Addressing the issue: Bullying and LGBTQ youth. Journal of Youth Development, 9(3), 40–46.

Berry, K. (2018). LGBT bullying in school: A troubling relational story.” Communication Education 67(4), 502–513.

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Ferber, A., Holcomb, K., & Wentling, T. (2017). Am I obsessed? Oxford University Press,

Rosen, N., & Nofziger, S. (2019). Boys, bullying, and gender roles: How hegemonic masculinity shapes bullying behavior. Gender Issues, 36, 295–318.

Russell, S., & Fish, J. (2016). Mental health in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 12(1), 465–487.