How Are LGBT Youths Affected by Discrimination and What Can Schools Do to Help?

This essay shows how discrimination leads to increased high school drop out rates for LGBT youths and, of greater concern, increased rates of suicide and substance abuse.

Gaell Jocelyn-Blackman

Abstract

In this paper, I will discuss the different types of discrimination that LGBT youths are faced with and the effects on these youths. The paper will elaborate on the severe impacts on LGBT youths not only caused by discrimination but also due to lack of support and guidance. The paper will also discuss the roles of the parents and schools in helping minimize discrimination against LGBT youths. This paper will also hopefully instruct schools and parents to accept and support gay students rather than add to the discrimination that they already face. Doing so will reduce the high school drop out rate and most importantly the youth suicide rate. In essence, the purpose of this research paper is to identify the different effects on LGBT youths due to discrimination and to explore various actions that can and should be taken by schools and parents to help these youths live a normal and happy life. Therefore, my target audience is the school system as well as the parents of LGBT youths.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youths. Gay and lesbian youths are 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Over 30% of all reported teen suicides each year are committed by gay and lesbian youths. . . . Gays and lesbians are at much higher risk than the heterosexual population for alcohol and drug abuse. Approximately 30% of both the lesbian and gay male populations have problems with alcohol. Gay and lesbian youth are at greater risk for school failure than heterosexual children. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Substantially higher proportions of homosexual people use alcohol, marijuana or cocaine than is the case in the general population. (McKirnan & Peterson, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Approximately 28% of gay and lesbian youths drop out of high school because of discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school environment. (Remafedi, 1987, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Gay and lesbian youths’ discomfort stems from fear of name calling and physical harm. (Eversole, n.d, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Many people are guilty of discrimination against LGBT youths, whether consciously or unconsciously. LGBT youths are faced with daily discrimination from society, peers, family and even school teachers and administrations. The above statistics not only show that LGBT youths lack support and guidance but also prove how much these youths are clearly affected, in more ways than one, by discrimination. Cole (2007) mentions that there is a higher rate of abuse, neglect, and discrimination against LGBT youths than straight youths. I believe that most parents would prefer their children to be straight than to be gay, and most school officials also prefer straight students over gay students. This preference could be a contributing factor in discrimination against LGBT youths. This paper will hopefully capture the attention of parents and schools and perhaps help modify their outlook on LGBT youths. Fundamentally, I will attempt to answer the following questions throughout the paper: What are the effects of discrimination against LGBT youths? What is the role of the parents? What is the role of the schools? How can parents and schools work together to help minimize discrimination against LGBT youths? What more can be done? Before answering those questions, I will start by addressing the types of discrimination that LGBT youths are faced with.

Types of Discrimination

Some of the comments that LGBT youths are faced with are as follows: “I hate gays. They should be banned from this country;” “Get away from me, you faggot. I can’t stand the sight of you;” “These queers make my stomach turn.” Those are only a few of the biased statements that LBGT youths are faced with in society. According to Cole (2007), the word “faggot” is often used by anti-gay peers to terrorize LGBT youths. Words such as “faggot” or “gay” are sometimes used in a negative sense to express something either stupid or uncool (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.35). When that occurs, it shows an even greater sign of discrimination against LGBT youths. I noticed that these words are not only used in the real world but also in movies and TV shows which makes it harder for LGBT youths to deal with. In addition to the discrimination from society and their peers, LGBT youths also endure discrimination from home/families and particularly schools.

“Today’s Gay Youth: The Ugly, Frightening Statistics” (n.d.) reports that one half of LGBT youths are neglected by their parents because of their sexual preference and approximately a quarter of LGBT youths are mandated to leave their homes. Cole (2007) explains that rejected LGBT youths generally do not learn how to build a relationship with peers or families. As a result, it creates a state of loneliness and isolation for them. Some LGBT youths are both verbally and physically abused by parents (“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.). In addition, roughly about 40% of youths that are homeless are classified as LGBT youths. The same article shows 27% of male teenagers who classified themselves as gay or bisexual left home due to quarrels with family members over their sexuality. Needless to say, parents and families play a big part in discrimination against LGBT youths and the effects that it has on them.

Nevertheless, it appears that the majority of the discrimination against LGBT youths emanates from the schools that they attend. Are schools taking any actions to minimize discrimination against gay students? What are they doing to help these adolescents? The following quote is an explicit example of how schools can contribute to discrimination against LGBT youths:

I took a call from one sixteen-year-old who came out to his counselor. The only other person he’d told was his friend in California. The counselor said, “I can’t help you with that.” After he left, the counselor called his mother to make sure she knew. The youth went home that night not knowing that he’d been outed to his parents. Sitting around the dinner table, his mother said to him, “I got a call from the school counselor today. We’re not going to have any gay kids in this family.” His father took him outside and beat him. (as cited in Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.106)

Human Rights Watch (2001) also reports that the same youth was harassed by his peers once they found out about his sexuality. At this point he turned to suicide, but was fortunately taken in by a family member who lived out of state where he finished school (p. 106). In the mentioned quote, the sixteen-year-old student did not get any support from his school guidance counselor or his parents. If his own school and parents would not give him any guidance or support, who else could he turn to? What is the alternative? This example could be a common concern throughout the world, where LGBT youths are not comfortable with their gender at school at home. Consequently, they are faced with an alternative which is rarely a positive one. The alternatives that they face may include depression, substance abuse, violence, and even suicide.

Effects of Discrimination

LGBT youths endure hostile verbal and physical harassment that can be excruciating for them (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35). Human Rights Watch (2001) also states that although the youths that were interviewed emphasized their fear of physical and sexual assault, being called words like “faggot,” “queer,” or “dyke,” daily is still destructive (p.35).

One young gay youth who had dropped out of an honors program angrily protested, “just because I am gay doesn’t mean I am stupid,” as he told of hearing “that’s so gay” meaning “that’s so stupid,” not just from other students but from teachers in his school. (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35)

Over 25% of LGBT youths are high school drop outs because of the discrimination they are faced with in the school atmosphere (“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.). The article also states the LGBT youths have a greater risk of academic failure than heterosexual students. Furthermore they don’t get involved much in student activities and have very little dedication to the school’s agendas because school isn’t a safe, healthy, or productive learning environment. Therefore, LGBT youths make an attempt to live, work, and learn with continuous fear of physical assault at school (“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.).

Physical abuse against LGBT youths usually occurs due to disregarded harassment (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Human Rights Watch (2001) says that the number of physical assaults that were reported by interviewed LGBT youths had an enormous psychological impact on them, mainly because the physical abuse followed constant verbal and non-physical harassment that was overlooked by school officials (p. 42). For example, a lesbian student reported that several months of harassment and verbal threats grew to physical abuse. “‘I got hit in the back of the head with an ice scraper.’ By that point, she said she was so used to being harassed. ‘I didn’t even turn around to see who it was’” (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Another incident mentioned by Human Rights Watch (2001) involved a tenth grade gay youth who was hit in the back of the neck with a beer bottle. He literally had to crawl to the nearest friend’s house for immediate assistance. The same youth was beaten up in the seventh grade by a couple of anti-gay kids (p. 42). One last example entails another gay youth who first suffered from verbal assault and students throwing items at him. Subsequently, a group of anti-gay students strangled him with a drafting line so bad that it cut him. Later that school year the youth was dragged down a flight of stairs and cut with knives by his classmates (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Fortunately, he lived to talk about it.

Human Rights Watch (2001) implies that verbal and physical violence is a tension that LGBT youths have gotten accustomed to; however, it is damaging to their psychological wellbeing (p. 68). Many of the LGBT youths interviewed by Human Rights Watch (2001) reported signs of depression such as: “sleeplessness, excessive sleep, loss of appetite, and feeling of hopelessness”(p. 69). One reported incident involved a gay youth who could not take it anymore. He started to skip school so that he would not have to put up with the harassment anymore. He stayed at home all day and ended up missing fifty-six days of school. The youth explained, “‘It was mentally and physically stressful for me to go to that school. I remember going home and waking up in the morning just dreading it; dreading the fact that I would have to go back to that school’” (as cited in Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 69). Other youths reported that even when the harassment was not addressed directly toward them, they were affected by it. One youth implied that discrimination and harassment makes him feel like he is backed up into a corner and so sad that he wants to cry (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 69). It is no wonder LGBT youth turn to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Cole (2007) claims that discrimination against LGBT youths can create repression along with a deficiency in their natural growth. Discrimination also has a social and emotional impact on them. Instead of being social individuals, LGBT youths remain in the closet and hide. The loneliness that they bear can turn into depression which often leads to substance abuse or even suicide. LGBT youths have greater chances of alcohol and substance abuse than heterosexual youths (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.). Also, roughly about one third of LGBT youths have a drinking or drug problem. Human Rights Watch (2001) interviewed some LGBT youths who say that they drink to the point of passing out or to feel good and normal (p. 69). The lack of support from parents or schools can possibly make them feel like there is no hope of ever living a happy life and being productive (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 68).

Roles of Parents

50% of all gay and lesbian youths report that their parents reject them due to their sexual orientation. In a study of male teenagers self-described as gay or bisexual, 27% moved away from home because of conflict with family members over sexual orientation. (Remafedi, 1987, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

26% of gay and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts over their sexual orientation. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

In a study of 194 gay and lesbian youth, 25% were verbally abused by parents, and nearly 10% dealt with threatened or actual violence. (D’Augelli, 1997, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Approximately 40% of homeless youths are identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. (Eversole, n.d., as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

Service providers estimate that gay, lesbian and bisexual youths make up 20-40% of homeless youth in urban areas. (National Network of Runaway and Youth Services, 1991, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

It appears that the lack of support, protection, and guidance from family also has a major effect on LGBT youths. Perhaps, if their families were more supportive, the suicide and depression rates of LGBT youths would be moderately less. I believe that parents should embrace their children no matter what their sexual preference is. For an adolescent, I think that family should be the primary source for seeking support and guidance. When parents reject their gay or lesbian adolescent, I feel that it can possibly set him or her up for failure. This era is the time when adolescents would need their parents’ love and support the most. I also sense that when LGBT youths don’t get the love and support that they are looking for from parents, it contributes to their state of depression and suicidal phase. Therefore, parents of LGBT youths should take time to reflect on the circumstances before they make the wrong decisions.

One way of showing support would be for the youths’ parents or family to intervene with the school or at least make an attempt like the mother in the following quote:

“The more I talked to teachers, the superintendent, and the principal, the more they just kept throwing up brick walls and trying to convince me I would have to let my son go through this,” Ms. Cooper said. “But no child should have to go through this, whether he’s gay or not. When [bullying] gets to the point where a kid wants to quit school and give up his future, something has to be done.” (Browman, 2001, p. 3)

In the above case, the parent was being supportive to her gay son while the school officials were not. Like many other schools, they choose to ignore the fact that the gay student is being bullied and discriminated against. As mentioned earlier in the paper, that kind of response from schools also contributes to the effects of depression on LGBT youths.

Roles of Schools

“Educators cannot ignore the risks faced by homosexual students, but deciding how to deal with the issue should be a matter of local concern” (Archer, 2002, n.p.). In his article, Archer is stressing that educators must address discrimination against gay students and must put aside their personal views to create a safe environment for these students. In her article, Browman (2001) also talks about the lack of attention from school teachers and administrators toward gay discrimination and harassment. Browman (2001) acknowledges the educational effect on LGBT youths due to constant harassment in school. A very interesting point that was made in this article is, if a student makes a racial comment in school, he or she gets punished. So why should remarks like “dyke,” “fag,” or “queer” be acceptable? Are those words equal to the same level of discrimination as making a racial comment? The article advises that the problem of discrimination or harassment can be addressed at the verbal stage before it gets to the physical point or causes the youth’s academic learning to be harmed (Browman, 2001). The article continues to imply that teachers and administrators often fail to cease discrimination or harassment against LGBT youth. They are either afraid of facing prejudice from others or perhaps even because of their own prejudice (Browman, 2001). The article also suggests a way to express to all students that harassment or discrimination against LGBT students will not be tolerated. Consequences such as school conduct codes and discipline policies should be established as well as anti-harassment rules (Browman, 2001).

Browman (2001) reports that Human Rights Watch completed a two-year study on the topic where an immediate response was obtained from educational groups such as: The National Education Association, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational Alliance, and The American Federation of Teachers. The three groups adhered in influencing the Education Department to defend and protect gay and lesbian students from discrimination. They add that schools are making an effort to create a safe environment for all students where they can all be treated with equal respect and dignity. Accordingly, the department fights to provide the schools with information and guidance to help solve the problem of discrimination against LGBT youths (Browman, 2001).

Furthermore, New York City has made an attempt to come up with a solution that they thought would possibly reduce discrimination against LGBT youths by opening an all-gay school. I see this movement as a possible increase in discrimination against LGBT youths. If they are all put together in one school, how is that helping them deal with discrimination from society, peers and others outside of the school? And how is that teaching anti-gay students not to discriminate against LGBT youths? I don’t think isolation from the rest of the world is the best solution for LGBT youths. They are human beings just like the rest of us and they should be treated accordingly. I agree with what is stated in Browman’s (2001) article about the schools accomplishing all they can to stop discrimination against LGBT youths.

Conclusion

The two primary sources that have the power and ability to diminish discrimination against LGBT youths are schools and parents. In my opinion, they are the ones who have the greatest influence on LGBT youths and in turn have the ability to reduce substance abuse, educational failure, and suicides. Parents and schools need to realize how much they can help diminish the effects of discrimination against LGBT youths if they work together and productively. Clearly, if they remain on the same page they can ease the agony for LGBT youths and help them live a normal and happy life. One method that can be exercised in schools is a homosexual sensitivity training for anti-gay students and school officials. The training would benefit both students and school officials. I think that it would help the school officials manage whatever prejudices they may have against LGBT youths. Since anti-gay bullying students are perhaps ignorant to the subject, schools should modify a system where all students can be educated on the subject. It would probably help the students get a better understanding if homosexuality was compared to other subject matters such as culture and religion. Students should be provided with a full view of the subject just like any other. If this method helps only two out of ten anti-gay students cease discrimination against LGBT students, I am sure that it will make a difference. An additional scheme that should be established is monthly meetings between school officials and parents to review the progress of measures that are already in place.

Before writing this research paper, I never imagined how immensely affected LGBT youths were by discrimination. It is awful what they go through and how most people are clueless or even careless about what these youths endure. LGBT youths are faced with discrimination, torture, and sometimes even execution because of who they love, how they look, or who they are. I believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of ourselves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. Doing this research not only made me realize the intense discrimination suffered by LGBT youths but also had an impact on me. This research has made me want to advocate for more laws and policies to help protect LGBT youths. I have gained a ton of information and knowledge during this process. However, if my readers obtain half of the valuable information that I have obtained, I know that I have accomplished my task.

References

Archer, J. (2002, February). Local schools must address safety for gays. Education Week, 21 (23), 3. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host database.

Browman, D. H. (2001, June). Report says schools often ignore harassment of gay students. Education Week, 20 (39), 5. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host database.

Cole, S. (2007, April). Protecting our youth. Edge . Retrieved October 31, 2007, from www.edgeboston.com

Human Rights Watch (2001). Hatred in the hallways. NY: Human Rights Watch.

Today’s gay youth: The ugly, frightening statistics (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2007, from www.pflagphoenix.org

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