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Harassment of gay students falling, says study

Despite survey results, over 80% of gay students have been verbally harassed or threatened in the past year
Harassment of gay students is falling, according to a new survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Photo by Scott Nunn.

Harassment of gay students in US schools is falling, according to a new survey.

Despite the vast majority still reporting name-calling or threats, under a third of gay students reported verbal harassment happened frequently, or every day.

This is down from 45% in 2007 and 40.6% in 2009, the year of the previous survey.

‘The 2011 survey marks a possible turning point in the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people in high schools and middle schools,’ according to Joseph Kosciw, the head of research at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Physical harassment, like shoving or pushing, that took place frequently or often was reported by 10.8% of students, down three percentage points from 2009, Reuters reports.

But 81.9% of LGBT students had been verbally harassed or threatened at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, the survey published on 6 September said.

Just over 38% of students said they had been physically harassed in the past year and 18.3% were physically assaulted.

Students said having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school led to less homophobic remarks and victimization, and said having LGBT-inclusive curriculum meant they were less likely to feel unsafe and hear offensive comments.

Suran Dickson, CEO of UK-based charity Diversity Role Models, believes educating children when they are young is important to prevent them from growing up homophobic.

Speaking to Gay Star News, she said: ‘A lot of our work is to do with educating kids so they meet real gay people and real trans people and they understand and empathize with them.

‘As they grow up they understand why homophobic language is offensive because they can connect with a real person.’

Dickson said kids change their minds very quickly when they are taught about love and identity, saying ‘it’s quite a powerful thing.’

In October 2010, the United States was hit by one of the darkest months for the gay community when five suicides of young men and boys were linked to homophobic bullying.

And on 29 August, a new study found the phrase ‘That’s so gay’ has a long-lasting traumatic effect on students.

Dickson says the problem with teenagers is they are all going through their own identity formation, and the one thing they have always heard is gay is bad or wrong.

She said: ‘The easiest thing to do is to join in with the bullies or the homophobic language to prove they are heterosexual.

‘There’s so much pressure on boys in particular to prove their manliness and heterosexuality, when they shouldn’t have to do that at all. They should be free to express themselves however they truly want.’

The National School Climate Survey by GLSEN involved 8,584 students between 13 and 20 years old.

To find out more about Diversity Role Models, go on the website here.

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