Imagine hearing that your best friend or someone you knew killed themselves because they were being bullied and harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because of being who they are...or were. This is the reality of many teens in American schools across the nation. LGBTQ+ students are among the most bullied groups in the school system. The school system needs to make efforts to protect LGBTQ+ youth from harassment and homophobia and raise awareness because LGBTQ+ youths’ orientation is not their choice, suicide among LGBTQ+ youth is higher than any other group, and schools have a responsibility to protect and support all their students.
LGBTQ+ youth in schools are bullied because of their orientations, real or assumed. Bullies will look for any weakness, tormenting them about how their orientation is wrong and it’s all their fault and calling them offensive slurs. A major weapon in these bullies’ arsenal is the idea that sexual orientation is a choice. They place the blame on the victim for choosing to be that way. The constant invalidation of their identity can make them try to hide their identity or even try to “convert” to heterosexuality. They feel it’s their fault that they’re this way when in reality it’s not. Sexual orientation is not a choice, nor is it a result of upbringing. It is the result of biological factors such as brain structure and hormones. A study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Switzerland in 2008 analyzed brain scans of 90 gay men and women and found that the structure of gay men’s brains “more closely resembled those of straight women than they did straight men” (Park). The hemispheres of gay men’s brains were more symmetrical compared to straight men. Similarly, lesbian women’s brains were more similar to those of straight men and more asymmetrical than straight women’s brains. Dean Hamer, a molecular biologist at the National Institute of Health, believes that this is yet another observation in a “long series of observations showing there's a biological reason for sexual orientation”. There are also theories that the amount of exposure to certain hormones in the uterus can affect a fetus’ brain structure and epigenetics, the way genes are expressed, can determine sexual orientation. If students in schools had free access to this information and were taught that sexual orientation is something they were born with, not something they’re responsible for, schools would raise awareness and bullying of LGBTQ+ students would decline.
Effects of the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth isn’t just limited to the victims trying to hide their identities, it extends to suicide as well. According to the Centers of Disease Control, LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for “suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide” and more than “twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers”. A 2015 CDC study found that more than 40% of LGBTQ+ students have “seriously considered suicide” and 29% have gone as far as to attempt it. The stress of everyday life compounded with the bullying and harassment LGBTQ+ youth receive can drive some to the extreme action of taking their lives because they can’t see a better alternative. The list of LGBTQ+ youth who have committed suicide is long: Blake Brockington, Tyler Clementi, Jamie Hubley, Jamey Rodemeyer, Leelah Alcorn, the list goes on and on. And it’ll keep going on and on for as long as LGBTQ+ youth are harassed and ostracized. Schools often either take no steps or not enough steps to prevent or stop bullying. They advocate their zero-tolerance policies but do not enforce them. The entire structure of a zero-tolerance policy relies on a student reporting the bullying or a staff member witnessing it. If neither of those two things happen, the policy fails. Schools need to go beyond zero-tolerance policies and actively try to stop bullying of LGBTQ+ youth and homophobia. CDC research has shown that in schools with support groups and systems, LGBTQ+ students were “less likely to experience threats of violence, miss school because they felt unsafe, or attempt suicide”. With the right support, schools can successfully protect LGBTQ+ youth and decrease suicide rates.
One of the causes of the bullying of LBGTQ+ youth are the schools themselves. Schools have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide equal access and protection to all students but often neglect that same responsibility to LGBTQ+ students. A major way to stop bullying and homophobia is education, which schools lack. One school district in South Dakota, the Sioux Falls School District, prevents students from accessing LGBTQ+ resource websites such as “It Gets Better” and “GLADD” with their internet filter, blocking LGBTQ+ student and their peers from learning about the LGBTQ+. That same filter allows students to access website like the Family Resource Council and Focus on the Family with obvious anti-LGBTQ+ stances. The denial of access to LGBTQ+ friendly websites sends a message to LGBTQ+ students, one that doesn’t make them feel welcome. A mother of a student at New Technology High School complained that “ it's another form of discrimination" (Raposa). Schools need to teach about LGBTQ+ people in history to supplement their education. Learning about the contributions of the LGBTQ+ to history and showing how they succeeded can have a normalizing effect of homosexuality and other sexual and gender orientations. More exposure of students to the LGBTQ+ can reduce homophobia as they become used to the idea of LGBTQ+ people being in the world around them. Schools also need to focus on equalizing sex education. When they say sex education, they mean straight sex. With all the focus put on straight sex and how male fits with female, LGBTQ+ students can feel ignored and neglected. Some of the idea that homosexuality is dirty comes from this ignorance of how gay sex works. The result of that neglect is an increase in dangerous sexual activities for LGBTQ+ youth, which can lead to further ostracization from their peers. Schools need to improve their education about the LGBTQ+ to normalize it and have open access to resources so that those who are gay or lesbian or anywhere on the spectrum can learn and teach themselves and their peers.
Schools need to make efforts to stop homophobia and bullying of LGBTQ+ youth in school because LGBTQ+ people don’t choose to be their orientation, suicide in the LGBTQ+ community is extremely high and schools have the responsibility to care for and support their students. Homophobia is everywhere in the world and schools can’t stop it all, but they can do their part to fight it. At school, students don’t just learn in classes, they learn from the hundreds of socializations they have with other students. They can easily pick up homophobia and actively embrace it or casually. Homophobia can spread easily in the right environments. But if schools fight it with support and education programs, they can have a positive effect on the LGBTQ+ community and the world at large. Imagine being able to go to school without having to worry about being persecuted for liking who you like or being who you are. That’s what the school system should work towards.
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