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Homosexuals are subject to more harassment and discrimination than any other minority because heterosexuals often view homosexuality as a choice. According to Charlie Bradley, a reporter for Associated Content, homosexuals are often the target of violent hate crimes because of homophobia, bigotry, religious persecution, fear and ignorance. Such hostility, if not controlled, can lead to violence such as hate crimes and suicide. According to Janet Fontaine, one in three adolescent suicides is caused by issues with sexual identity. Students often have emotional, social and psychological issues because they do not have the same protection from harassment as heterosexual students. Homosexuals are four to five times more likely to become depressed than heterosexuals when dealing with issues with their sexuality. Adolescents spend two-thirds of their day at school, so problems like harassment at school will become significant enough to affect the rest of their daily life. My solution to this problem is to provide protection and counseling of LGBT students in our secondary public school systems. There are several ways to accomplish this, such as creating a safe zone or a gay/straight alliance, one-on-one counseling with a professionally trained counselor to assist LGBT students with their particular situations, advocating active protection from teachers, parents, and administrators and creating policies to protect these students from discrimination and harassment. Exposing adolescents to a support system will allow them to build healthy relationships, not only in school but also in everyday life.
A better understanding of who exactly is a "sexual minority" is the basis for understanding issues which LGBT students experience. "Sexual minority" in this essay is defined as any adolescent with a sexual identity that stands in opposition to strict heterosexuality. Anastasia Hansen describes LGBT students as anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, engages in homosexual behavior, or experiences same-sex attraction (Hansen 1). Identifying as a homosexual, however, can lead to persecution. Further, I find a better understanding of what constitutes bullying to be beneficial to recognizing the difference between "teasing" and harassment. Dan Olweus, who developed the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, defines bullying in his book Bullying: What We Know and What We Can Do as, "A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself." Bullying leads to social and physiological issues as well as violence.
On February 12, 2008, Brandon McInerney told another student to "say good-bye to Larry because you will never see him again." Larry King, an openly homosexual student, was sitting in the E.O. Green School computer lab when McInerney shot him twice in the head at point-blank range. Two days later, King died in a local hospital after being on life-support for several days. McInerney had harassed King in the past; the school never stepped in to put a stop to the harassment. Instances like this are what make people think, "Why didn't anyone protect him? How can we prevent this from happening to our children?" It is the job of teachers, administrators, and staff to actively listen to how students talk to each other. A person of authority must make it very clear that harassment is unacceptable and will be strictly punished. They must protect our students.
Teachers spend more time with our children than any other administrator in schools and they must play an active role in protecting our LGBT students from bullying and harassment. The hours each day that they spend with our students gives them adequate time to evaluate a child's state of mind. They must pay attention to what our students are saying and doing to each other. This would prevent teasing and harassment from escalating to fights and assault. With the work load a teacher experiences, this is often a very difficult task. Teachers simply must listen to a child's complaint of being bullied and take action (Birkett, Espelage, Koeing 991). If a teacher finds a student is having a problem with another student, a teacher needs to immediately inform the parents and administrators. The next course would be disciplinary action. The teacher then can decide whether the LGBT student should receive additional help through counseling.
Students must adapt to a lot of pressures. LGBT students, in particular, deal with normal peer pressure as well as issues of being a sexual minority. Students of a sexual minority are pressured towards heterosexual relationships because that is what is perceived to be normal. Students may deny their sexuality, isolate themselves, and experience depression. Students with counseling identify positive ways to communicate feelings and are more apt to develop healthy relationships (Zubernis and Snyder 2). It is a counselor's role to create a safe environment at school and protect all LGBT students from the often hostile homophobic ideology that other students and teachers possess. A counselor can advocate change in the current policies a school possess to explicitly protect LGBT students from harassment, discrimination, and violence.
Teachers should work with parents in protecting our students. Parents should also actively listen to their children. If a child complains of being bullied, they should contact the teacher and administrators to discuss what should be done to alleviate the problem (Olweus). Steps should be taken to counsel both students involved and disciplinary action should be taken. At times, teachers and administrators deny there is a problem. This passive attitude will allow the harassment to escalate to violent hate crimes and the "bully" would see that is behavior is acceptable and continue. If the school administrators refuse to take action, I would suggest the parent contact school board members to advocate change in school policies.
Parents and teachers can protect an individual student in their classroom, but they do not always have the power to change rules and regulations to protect all students. Administrators must advocate for rules regarding harassment to protect all students, including LGBT students. Administrators should also support students in creating clubs, alliances and special interest groups to support LGBT students. I have found in my research a lack of published writing about how a student or administrator can physically amend or change policies to protect LGBT students. In spite of lack of published writing, The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was developed by the government of Norway to create an intervention program; it was studied on much of the population. The program began by training parents on how to recognize when your child is being bullied. They made a plan of the school so there would be no blind-spots for bullying outside a teacher's watch. If a child continued to harass other children, he or she was removed from the school, given behavior modification training, and transferred to another school. After twenty months, at the end of the study, the Norwegian government confirmed that bullying problems were reduced by almost fifty percent. A teacher can also assist in the organization of clubs and alliances giving students a "safe space" to go
A Gay/Straight Alliance would give homosexual and heterosexual students a place to develop positive relationships in a fun, laid-back environment. Gay/Straight Alliances give LGBT students a "safe space" to receive peer mediation and counseling. These programs are open to any student who identifies as an LGBT student or has an interest in supporting other LGBT students and changing policies that do not support and protect LGBT students from discrimination and harassment (Lee 20). According to a study done by Eugene Wall of University of Denver, there are a number of ways all students benefit from Gay/Straight Alliances. In his study, he found the dropout rate, general harassment, sexual harassment, the feeling of an unsafe environment, carrying of weapons, and frequent absences are higher in schools without Gay/Straight Alliances than schools with them (Wall 5-7). Gay/Straight Alliances often have school sponsors who have special training to assist LGBT students develop positive attitudes toward their sexuality. These counselors are usually trained in psychology and possible gender studies. These counselors assist students with school and career advice as well as issues with their sexuality. The Gay/Straight Alliance sponsor would also be available to evaluate an LGBT student's state of mind. If a student becomes depressed or experiences anxiety, the sponsor could determine if he or she is in need of additional support through counseling. Sponsors will also have an active role as an activist in changing policies to protect LGBT students.
Details of policies protecting students from discrimination are often broad. Most policies state that students cannot be discriminated against based on their race, ethnicity, religion, etc. The "etc," however, does not always include LGBT students. Students in schools that do not possess policies to protect LGBT students are more likely to have instances of harassment and violence. Chesir-Teran and Hughes also claim that students of schools that have organization and policies to protect them have fewer reports of harassment and violence and students are "more likely to perceive their school environment as safe, tolerant, and respectful toward a sexual minority individual" (Chesir-Teran and Hughes 3). This feeling of respect and safety is what encourages a student to continue to maintain good grades and attend school regularly.
Students who are involved in a positive environment are less likely to develop depression, anxiety, and psychological problems. Gay/Straight Alliance and counseling give LGBT students a safe place when they find adults they can trust. Schools that possess policies to protect students have fewer instances of discrimination, harassment, and violent hate crimes. Only when we completely change the way administrators control their students and schools will LGBT students feel completely safe within their school walls. With assistance from students, teachers, and administrators, schools can become the safe, comfortable learning environment it is meant to be.