Gay, lesbian, and bisexual children are more likely to be bullied as they’re growing up, even at young ages, finds the first large-scale US study focused on the problem.
4,300 public school students in three cities were asked about bullying as they moved through the 5th, 7th, and 10th grades. Upon their entrance to high school, they were asked what sexual orientation they identified with. The 630 students who identified as something other than straight had higher incidences of being hit, threatened, called names, or excluded throughout all the years they were surveyed.
Dr. Mark Schuster of Boston Children’s Hospital, the lead author, noted that even at young ages, queer children were bullied more often. 13% of LGBT children were bulled weekly in 5th grade compared to 8% of the heterosexual population, notes Al Jazeera America. However, in fifth grade, most children do not have a firm sense of their sexual orientation and probably have not shared these feelings with their peers — so what about them are bullies targeting? Experts say that it may have to do more with the bullies’ perception of the child’s gender presentation than any actual facts about their sexual orientation.
Schuster says in the study’s report that LGBT students may be bullied for being “girlish boys or boyish girls.” Tara Haelle of US News quotes Stacee Reicherzer, a transgender counselor who works with LGBT youth who agrees with Schuster’s assessment:
In fifth grade, the more likely reason that these children are being singled out is due to nonconformance with the defined gender roles for girls or boys at their schools. They are picked on because they are not masculine enough boys or feminine enough girls.
Other research has found that LGBT high school students are more likely to attempt suicide or engage in risky behavior, writes Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press. This is connected with bullying, which can cause physical injury, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts and/or actions, post-traumatic stress, and poor school performance. Parents concerned about the issue should pay attention to a reluctance to go to school or to ride the school bus in addition to these clues. Schuster noted:
There’s been a history of saying ‘kids will be kids’ and that they just have to learn to deal with bullying, but we’ve recognized more and more that bullying has serious short-term and long-term consequences.
Parental behavior plays a part in these problems as well. as parents may mock LGBT individuals and make children feel rejected, and/or send the message to other kids that it’s okay to bully others for these reasons. It is critical for the health and safety of LGBT children, both in the short term and the long term, to create safe environments free of homophobia and transphobia.