Written by Makeela J. Wells
In today’s society, more adolescents are opening up about their sexual orientation and identity. However, an unfortunate consequence of this action has been resulting experiences of homophobic and transphobic bullying. The purpose of this blog is to help the reader understand instances of homophobic and transphobic bullying in K-12 educational institutions. First, we define homophobic and transphobic bullying. Second, we will discuss the consequences of homophobic and transphobic bullying. Lastly, we will explore how school-based strategies can help adolescents cope with and combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools.
What is homophobic and transphobic bullying?
Homophobic and transphobic bullying is a form of bias-based victimization against individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It can include derogatory language, verbal harassment, and physical violence (Day, Snapp, & Russell, 2016). Additionally, homophobic and transphobic bullying can occur through electronic means, including text messages, e-mails, and social media sites (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Research on homophobic and transphobic bullying has received little attention; however, it is not just a regional phenomenon. Homophobic and transphobic bullying is being experienced all over the world. For example, in 2010, a South African study revealed that close to 70% of gay men and roughly 40% of lesbians reported that they experienced hate speech at school (Cornu, 2016). In the same year, a U.S. study showed that 84% of students who identified as either gay, lesbian, or bisexual were called names or threatened by other students (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, & Bartkiewicz, 2010). Additionally, close to 20% reported experiencing physical assaults (Kosciw et al., 2010). Among transgender students, 90% stated that they experienced name-calling or threats, and about 50% experienced physical assaults (Kosciw et al., 2010).
Consequences of homophobic and transphobic bullying
Several negative consequences associated with homophobic and transphobic bullying have been identified. Adolescents who experience homophobic and transphobic bullying are more likely to miss classes, have lower academic performances, and have difficulty concentrating (Antonio & Moleiro, 2015; Day et al., 2016). Those who experience these negative effects often leave school before completion. Failing to complete school influences future employment prospects of adolescents who are subjected to homophobic and transphobic bullying.
Socially, homophobic and transphobic bullying victims are more likely to report feeling left out or isolated while attending school (Antonio & Moleiro, 2015). They also are more likely to have difficulties establishing and maintaining friendships and other interpersonal relationships (Antonio & Moleiro, 2015). Negative emotional and psychological consequences of homophobic and transphobic bullying include low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Victims of homophobic and transphobic bullying are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and greater rates of attempted and actual suicides (Antonio & Moleiro, 2015; Day et al., 2016).
Strategies for combating homophobic and transphobic bullying in K-12 educational institutions
Two types of school-based practices have been implemented in schools in an attempt to prevent and eliminate homophobic and transphobic bullying. Supportive practices are initiatives taken by school officials to facilitate both school connectedness and bullying prevention. Examples of supportive practices include adequate counseling and support services for students, providing confidential support and referral services to students, and identifying sanctions for bullying violations on a case-by-case basis (Day et al., 2016). Punitive practices refer to strict, zero-tolerance approaches to dissuade future bullying and include suspension and even expulsion for participation in bullying behaviors (Day et al., 2016). Research by Day and colleagues (2016) revealed that supportive practices were more beneficial in reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying than punitive practices. Schools utilizing supportive practices reported that students were less likely to experience homophobic bullying. Furthermore, supportive practices promoted school connectedness through which adolescents develop positive relationships in school.
Sexual and gender diversity are no longer taboo. Adolescents now, more than ever, are willing to express their true identities. It is imperative that these adolescents feel comfortable with themselves, especially within schools. Schools serve as a place where adolescents are provided with educational opportunities that greatly impact their future life chances (e.g., employment). When adolescents are bullied for their perceived or actual sexual identity, it makes it more difficult for them to obtain a sufficient education. In the end, parents, school officials, and other educational stakeholders must work to prevent and, eventually, eliminate homophobic and transphobic bullying.
For more information of homophobic and transphobic bullying, visit the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Education sector responses to homophobic bullying.
Antonio, R., & Moleiro, C. (2015). Social and parental support as moderators of the effects of homophobic bullying on psychological distress in youth. Psychology in the Schools, 52(8), 729-742. doi: 10.1002/pits.21856.
Cornu, C. (2016). Preventing and addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in education: A human rights-based approach using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Journal of LGBT Youth, 13(1), 6-17. doi: 10.1080/19361653.2015.1087932
Day, J.K., Snapp, S.D., & Russell, S.T. (2016). Supportive, not punitive, practices reduce homophobic bullying and improve school connectedness. Journal of Social Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(4), 416-425. doi: 10.1037/sgd0000195
Kosciw, J.G., Greytak, E.A., Diaz, E.M., & Bartkiewicz, M.J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN. Retrieved from https://www.glsen.org/download/file/NDIyMw==.
Schneider, S.K., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., Coulter, R.W.S. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 102(1), 171-177. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor