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The PFLAG Perspective: Bullying - it’s not natural

I went birding this weekend to the Coronado Islands where I saw the Parasitic Jaeger, which uses speed and harassment to steal the food of other birds.

It made me think of bullies, and it took me back to some of the rationalizations I heard as a kid when I myself was bullied: ... rite of passage ... boys will be boys ... suck it up.

Wow, even the teachers were afraid of these guys back then. Is that still the case? The stats show it’s still going on.

The Indicators of School Crime and Safety's annual report collected statistics which showed that:

  • One third of teens reported being bullied while at school;
  • Most bullying occurred inside the school;
  • About two of every three bully victims were bullied once or twice during the school year, one in five were bullied once or twice a month, and about one in ten were bullied daily or several times a week;
  • Forty-four percent of middle schools reported bullying problems, compared to just over 20 percent of both elementary and high schools;
  • Ten percent of middle and high school students have had hate terms used against them; and,
  • Over one third have seen hateful graffiti messages.

This list may take you back to something you personally saw or experienced:

  • About twenty percent of teens had been made fun of by a bully;
  • Eighteen percent of teens had rumors or gossip spread about them;
  • Eleven percent were physically bullied, such as being shoved, tripped, or spit on;
  • Six percent were threatened;
  • Five percent were excluded from activities they wanted to participate in;
  • Four percent were coerced into something they did not want to do; and,
  • Four percent had their personal belongings destroyed by bullies.

Bullying by and of girls has not received major attention, but some research indicates that females may be the victims of bullying more often than males. A lot more needs to be learned.

Which bring us to GLBTQ youth.

The government's Find Youth Info website reports that gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are more likely to be bullied than other kids. Duh!

The Mental Health America website also notes that GBLT teens … additionally have to deal with harassment, threats, and violence directed at them on a daily basis.

They hear anti-gay slurs such as "homo," "faggot" and "sissy" about 26 times a day, or once every 14 minutes.

A study they cite also found that thirty-one percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone! If a school is unprepared to deal with bullying, rest assured they are really unprepared to deal with a GLBTQ kid looking for refuge from the onslaught.

Take William, my daughter’s best friend, who is gay and was out in high school.

At 6 foot 1 inch tall, William couldn’t hide anywhere. Much verbal abuse, pushes, shoves, and bumps ensued. His car was keyed. It was open season. When he took his problems to the school administrators, they suggested he go to another school.

How are harassed kids affected? We’ve heard about suicide rates for GLBT youth that are 2 to 3 times the national average. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse. Skipping school follows naturally.

It’s an issue for gay and straights alike. For every GLBT youth who reported being targeted for anti-gay harassment, four heterosexual youth reported harassment or violence for being perceived as gay or lesbian.

Bullying is one of those infamous human institutions that is a lose-lose-lose-lose for all concerned.

  • Victims suffer isolation, depression, withdrawal, or the psychological black hole of suicide.
  • Family and friends of the victim wonder why their kid doesn’t want to go out anymore.
  • The other kids in school groan inwardly at the injustice and their own sense of helplessness.
  • The school administration looses credibility and the teaching environment suffers.
  • And the bullies themselves, some research indicates, then become linked with higher crime rates as adults.

Change is necessary.

We find ourselves in all kinds of situations and chances are we’ll brush up against bullying sooner or later. A helpful adult in a supportive environment at the school is essential. If these don’t already exist, asking for one is a strong beginning.

According to several surveys cited by Mental Health America, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school. Kids who said that they had a supportive faculty or openly gay staff member were more likely to feel as if they belong in their school.

Don’t be afraid to step up. How many of these problems would have been addressed by a pro-active step forward, an assertive relative or friend demanding action?

Encourage anyone who’s being bullied to tell a teacher, counselor, coach, nurse, or his or her parents or guardians. If the bullying continues, report it yourself.

My bird-watching experience reminded me that harassment is out there; but for people, it’s not part of the natural order. That’s a start to taking action.

Mark Thompson has been a PFLAG member for five years, including two years as co-president (with his wife Karen) and a year as treasurer. He says his experience of helping in the LGBT community has been one of the most rewarding he’s ever had. Mark has lived in San Diego since the late 1960s, is a land use/environmental consultant, and is currently working on a novel.