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The Effects Of Homophobic Bullying Social Work Essay

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The stigma and prejudice attached to homosexuality encourages the perpetuation of homophobic bullying against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and Trans gender (LGBT) youth by their peers. Bullying can take the form of homophobic epithets, sexual harassment and even violence. The class room has been described by social psychologists as the "most homophobic of all institutions." This paper examines the effects of homophobic bullying on the physical and mental health of the LGBT youth which is characterized by depression, suicide ideation and engaging in risky behaviors (alcohol and substance abuse). The paper also analyses the buffering effects provided by positive school climate, parental and peer support as well as personal resilience.

Keywords: LGBT youth, homophobic bullying, depression, hostile school climate, suicide ideation

The Effects of Homophobic Bullying on the Mental and Physical Health of LGBT Youth:

The Buffering Effects of Positive School Climate and Parental Support

A Review of the Literature

In today's permissive society an increasing number of adolescents who are in their early and middle teens (Middle and High school students) have begun to come out of the proverbial "closet." However, even in this day and age our society is largely intolerant of deviation from gender norms prescribed by the culture. This makes it especially challenging for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who are struggling and trying to come to terms with their sexual identity and orientation. The stigma attached to homosexuality encourages the perpetuation of homophobic bullying against the LGBT youth by their peers. It is a matter of immense concern to the doctors, psychologists and the entire community that there is a high incidence of suicide within this sexual minority group as compared to the heterosexual youth. This literature review focuses on homophobic bullying and its effects on the LGBT youth who are at a challenging stage in life and are struggling with their feelings about sexual orientation and sexual gender. The effects of homophobic bullying on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth encompass challenges to their psychosocial development, emotional distress an increase in risky behavior (substance abuse), depression and suicide ideation. However, the literature review also highlights the buffering effects of a positive school environment and positive parental relations against negative effects of homophobic bullying.

Homophobic Teasing and General Peer Victimization

Homophobic teasing, peer victimization and gender non-conformity attitudes are some important mental health issues faced by the LGBT youth as result of their sexual orientation. "Homophobic teasing is often long-term, systematic, and perpetrated by groups of students; it places the targets at risk for greater suicide ideation, depression and isolation". Homophobic teasing includes negative beliefs, attitudes, stereotypes and behaviors towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender youth, and can take the form of verbal and/or physical abuse, and in today's advanced technological age cyber abuse. Peer victimization can take the form of verbal insults, threats of violence, physical assault, and sexual assault (Espelage, Aragon, Birkett & Koenig, 2008). A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students aged 13-21 years found that in the past year, because of their sexual orientation: Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school; four of ten had been physically harassed at school; six of ten felt unsafe at school; and one of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school (cdc.gov).

Challenges to Psycho Social Development

According to Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development all individuals must master particular developmental tasks during the adolescent years in order to lead productive and healthy lives. These tasks include "adjusting to the physical and emotional changes of puberty", forming practical social and functioning relationships with peers, accomplishing independence from primary care takers, preparing for a career, and formation of a unique identity and a set of moral values (McDermott, Roen & Scourfield 2008). However, for the LGBT adolescents achieving these developmental goals is challenged by the stress of being part of a stigmatized group. These youth also have to contend with a lack or absence of a support system such as family rejection, social isolation and harassment by peers and feelings of alienation with the school as a result of consistent homophobic bullying.

Emotional Distress

The social climate of our nation promotes heterosexist attitudes and these views are up held by our social institutions such as families, schools, the church, and government institutions. These prejudiced attitudes result in gay related stress for the LGBT youth who "experience a unique set of stressors related directly to being sexual minorities within a heterosexually oriented society." These stressors may be both external (homophobic bullying, family rejection), and internal (internalized homophobia) in nature From the time they are children the youth have been barraged by negative attitudes towards homosexuality and this can lead to the internalization of homophobic sentiments. Internalized homophobia often results in feelings of shame and disgust towards ones sexual orientation which has been reinforced by family and society and can create conflict and dissonance and lead to emotional distress (Rosario & Schrimshaw 2002).

School Alienation and Lack of Social Support

The constant flow of negative information regarding gender non -conformity and homosexuality from figures of authority such as parents, teachers, the clergy, and government officials encourages discriminatory and prejudicial behavior towards the sexual minority group by fellow students. Their heterosexist tendencies are manifested through homophobic bullying, social isolation and violence towards the vulnerable LGBT adolescents. Peer victimization can result in creating a hostile school environment and promotes feelings of alienation from school. An on-line research conducted on 3,450 public and private students (ages13-18) in the U.S found that 88% of the students reported that homophobic remarks were used in the teacher's presence and that teachers and staff failed to intervene during these incidents (Espelage 2008). These findings clearly indicate that teachers and staffs failure to intervene encourages and promotes peer victimization and homophobic teasing and creates and sustains a hostile environment for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender youth.

Having a strong social support system (family, peers, and teachers) is vital to maintaining mental and emotional health. It works as a buffer against stress; elevates a person's self-confidence and self-esteem; reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation to name a few. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans gender youth have lack or absence of a social support system by virtue of their sexual orientation that is negatively sanctioned by the heterosexual society. They face family rejection after "coming out," social isolation by their peers, and many adults fear discrimination, job loss, and abuse if they openly support LGBT youth. Thus there is a lack of positive role models and support system which makes it more challenging to cope with the stress produced by stigmatization (Padilla, Crisp &Rew 2011).

Depression, Substance Abuse, and Suicide Ideation

Suicidal ideation is defined as "thoughts of engaging in suicide-related behavior." It can range from passive ideation- having the thought but not the intent to active ideation which includes intent as well as a plan to harm oneself. Suicidality has a number of risk factors as well as a number of protective factors. Among LGB individuals there is a higher incidence of risk factors and there are less protective factors in place. There is, for example, a higher incidence of important suicide risk factors such as depression and substance abuse in LGB youth compared to their heterosexual peers. These associations between mood disorders are borne out by research studies (Malley, Posner, & Potter, 2008). Also, LGB individuals often experience a lack of support at home and are deprived of positive environments in their schools due to avoidance or bullying. Within the LGB cohort certain factors can affect the risk of suicidality as well-for example the younger the age at which the individual discloses sexuality the higher the risk of suicide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2007), "It has been widely reported that gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youth and that thirty percent of all attempted or completed youth suicides are related to issues of sexual identity. The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre (2008) in the United States noted a 1.5 to 7 fold (depending on the study) increased risk of attempted suicide in LGB youth as compared to their heterosexual peers. A landmark study commissioned by the US Secretary of Health found that one third of all sexual minority youth suicides occur before the age of seventeen (Malley, Posner, & Potter, 2008). Padilla, Crisp, and Rew (2010) found that in the adolescent population sexual minorities have a much higher rate of drug use with contributing factors including a greater number of psychological stressors and poor social networks. They also noted that when parents accepted the adolescent's sexual orientation the impact of life stressors was decreased significantly.

Buffering Effects Provided by Parental Support and Positive School Climate and Resilience

As mentioned previously there is a greater prevalence of psychological problems and high risk behaviors in LGBT youth then in their heterosexual peers. These include mood disorders, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse. Espelage, Aragon, Birkett and Koenig (2008) and Poteat, Mereish, Di Giovanni & Koenig(2011) highlighted the crucial role a support system plays in preventing psychiatric and other behavioral problems in LGBT youth. Two important and beneficial support networks identified were the first of which were communicative and empathic parents and the second affirming and healthy school environments. The presence of both these networks corresponded with a markedly reduced incidence of psychological problems, suicide and substance use compared to individual where there was a lack of these support systems. Parental support and acceptance also seems to foster resilience and improve coping skills.

It appears from the review of relevant literature that contrary to popular perception and despite the efforts of most sections of the media as well as many social organizations, general and unconditional acceptance of LGBT individual remains the exception and not the norm. The alienation and stigmatization is achieved through both passive (social ostracization, not standing up for LGBT rights) and aggressive (violence and emotional homophobic bullying) means and is aggravated by the absence of a buffer against these assaults in the form of parental acceptance and positive school environments. These findings do not differ much from those of earlier studies or from studies of other minorities that face prejudices. We know that the problem exists and we have identified the enabling, aggravating and protective factors. What remains to be seen is whether society will show the will to follow words with actions. What may also be beneficial is to conduct larger studies with more statistical power so that the facts can be ascertained with a greater degree of confidence.

Annotated Bibliography

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011, May 19). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

This website provides statistics on the prevalence of homophobic bullying in the schools. Since community psychology focuses on social issues and social institutions it is of particular interest to community psychologists that our sexual minority youth are facing harassment and violence at the hands of these social institutions such as schools, church and governmental organizations.

Espelage, D.M. (2008). Addressing research gaps in the intersection between homophobia and bullying. School Psychology Review, 37 (2), 155-58.

Homophobic bullying is a pressing and immediate problem facing our community since it affects adolescents who are members of a sexual minority group. One of the fundamental principles of Community psychology is a respect for diversity which includes race ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and social class.

Espelage, D. L., Aragon, S. R., Birkett, M., & Koenig, B. W. (2008). Homophobic teasing, psychological outcomes, and sexual orientation among high school students: What influence does parents and schools have? School Psychology Review, 37(2), 202-216.

Another fundamental principle of Community Psychology is ecological perspective and multiple levels of intervention. LGBT youth face an increased risk of mental and emotional problems as a result of stigmatization of their sexual orientation. It is of interest to the community psychologist that the youth's positive parental (microsystem) and school (microsystem) involvement help as a buffer to negate the effects of stigmatization.

McDermott, E., Roen, K., & Scourfield, J. (2008). Avoiding shame: young LGBT people, homophobia and self-destructive behaviors. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 10(8), 815-829. doi:10.1080/13691050802380974

Since community psychology focuses on social issues and social institutions it is of particular interest to community psychologists that our sexual minority youth are facing harassment and violence at the hands of these social institutions such as schools, church and governmental organizations.

Padilla, Y. C., Crisp, C., & Rew, D. (2010). Parental acceptance and illegal drug use among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents: Results from a national survey. Social Work, 55(3), 265-275.

Community psychologists are interested in the effects of social support on our youth. Since social support has been shown to promote and maintain physical and mental wellbeing and also helps in the development of resiliency in youth who are at risk such as the sexual minority youth.

Poteat, V., Mereish, E. H., DiGiovanni, C. D., & Koenig, B. W. (2011). The effects of general and homophobic victimization on adolescent's psychosocial and educational concerns: The importance of intersecting identities and parent support. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(4), 597-609. doi:10.1037/a0025095

Another fundamental principle of Community Psychology is ecological perspective and multiple levels of intervention. LGBT youth face an increased risk of mental and emotional problems as a result of stigmatization of their sexual orientation. It is of interest to the community psychologist that the youth's positive parental (microsystem) and school (microsystem) involvement help as a buffer to negate the effects of stigmatization.

Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Gwadz, M. (2002). Gay-related stress and emotional distress among gay, lesbian and bisexual youths: A longitudinal examination. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(4), 967-975. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.70.4.967

Since community psychology focuses on social issues and social institutions it is of particular interest to community psychologists that our sexual minority youth are facing harassment and violence at the hands of these social institutions such as schools, church and governmental organizations.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2008). Suicide risk and prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

Community psychology advocates the importance of context and environment because our behaviors are governed by the expectations and demands of given situations. It is vital to study the social environment of the LGBT youth to figure out what interventions can be made in order to prevent suicide within this population.


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