A “bashing” may be a specific, violent incident, with the verb form being used: to bash (e.g. “I was gay bashed.”). Physical gay bashings have involved extreme violence and murder, such as the fatal gay bashing of Matthew Shepard. A verbal gay bashing might use sexual slurs, expletives, intimidation, and threatened violence. It also might take place in a political forum and include one or more common anti-gay slogans.
Bullying of gay/LGBT people involves intentional actions toward the victim, repeated negative actions by one or more people against another person, and an imbalance of physical or psychological power. Similar terms such as gay bullying, lesbian bullying, queer bullying, and queer bashing may also be formed.
Homophobia and gay bashing are longstanding and current issues, and have been officially documented worldwide for as long as gay people have been documented. Homophobia in the United States was widely documented in the press in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when many gay people were forced out of government by boards set up by Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. As historian David K. Johnson explains:
The Lavender Scare helped fan the flames of the Red Scare. In popular discourse, communists and homosexuals were often conflated. Both groups were perceived as hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, literature, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. Both groups were thought to recruit to their ranks the psychologically weak or disturbed. And both groups were considered immoral and godless. Many people believed that the two groups were working together to undermine the government.
Johnson concludes that Senator Joe McCarthy, notorious for his attacks on alleged communists in government, was often pressured by his allies to denounce homosexuals in government, but he resisted and did not do so. Using rumors collected by Drew Pearson, one Nevada publisher wrote in 1952 that both McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, were homosexuals. Washington Post editor Benjamin C. Bradlee said, “There was a lot of time spent investigating” these allegations, “although no one came close to proving it.” No reputable McCarthy biographer has accepted it as probable.
Bullying of LGBT youth
Egale Canada conducted a survey of more than 3700 high school students in Canada between December 2007 and June 2009. The final report of the survey, “Every Class in Every School”, published in 2011, found that 70% of all students participating heard “that’s so gay” daily at school, and 48% of respondents heard “faggot”, “lezbo” and “dyke” daily. 58% or about 1400 of the 2400 heterosexual students participating in EGALE’s survey found homophobic comments upsetting. Further, EGALE found that students not directly affected by homophobia, biphobia or transphobia were less aware of it. This finding relates to research done in the area of empathy gaps for social pain which suggests that those not directly experiencing social pain (in this case, bullying) consistently underestimate its effects and thus may not adequately respond to the needs of one experiencing social pain.
EGALE, along with previous research has found teachers and school administration may be complicit in queer bullying through their silence and/or inaction.
Graffiti found on school grounds and property, and its “relative permanence”, is another form of queer bullying.
Some researchers suggest including youth questioning their sexuality in any research on queer bullying because they may be as susceptible to its effects as queer students.
A research study of 78 eleven to fourteen-year-old boys conducted in twelve schools in London, England between 1998 and 1999 revealed that respondents who used the word “gay” to label another boy in a derogatory manner intended the word as “just a joke”, “just a cuss” and not as a statement of one’s perceived sexual orientation. American sociologist Michael Kimmel and American psychologist Gregory Herek write that masculinity is a renunciation of the feminine and that males shore up their sense of their masculinity by denigrating the feminine and ultimately the homosexual. Building on the notion of masculinity defining itself by what it is not, some researchers suggest that in fact the renunciation of the feminine may be misogyny. These intertwining issues were examined in 2007, when American sociologist CJ Pascoe described what she calls the “fag discourse” at an American high school in her book, Dude, You’re a Fag.
Gay and lesbian youth are more likely to report bullying. In one study, boys who were bullied with taunts of being gay suffered more bullying and more negative effects compared with boys who were bullied with other categories of taunting.
Stress, anxiety and depression in LGBT communities
Gay and lesbian youth can develop severe forms of depression and anxiety as they grow up. 71.4% of LGBT people experience Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). For LGBT individuals, MDD can be caused by any of the following: self-esteem, pressure to conform, minority stress, coming out, family rejection, parenting, relationship formation, and violence. Self-esteem and pressure to conform can cause anxiety for LGBT youth. When they are told what to look like and who to love, it puts a toll on their self-esteem. When people make comments about who they are, what they look like, who they love, etc. it begins to make them feel insecure, and as though they aren’t good enough the way they are.
“Coming-out” is when an LGBT individual makes it known that they are gay, lesbian, etc. Coming out can be very stressful, and youth need family support at this time. But often they instead experience rejection, leaving them feeling unwanted and unloved. This can set them into a downward spiral of depression. Parenting and relationship formation are very closely related. It was only in March 2016, that it became legal for LGBT parents to adopt in all 50 states. Not being able to conceive their own child can already cause depression, but being denied the right to adopt has caused LGBT people additional pain and stress. Minority stress is defined as a stress experienced by LGBT individuals due to their sexual orientation/gender identity. Violence can slip anybody into a depressed state whether the violence is a type of physical abuse, mental abuse, or verbal abuse. A person can be harassed to the point where their depression becomes too much and they no longer experience any happiness. These factors all work together and make it extremely hard to avoid MDD.
Effect of bullying on LGBT youth
Being bullied can make victims feel chronically sad and unsafe in the world. Bullying will affect a student’s experience of school. Some victims might feel paralyzed and withdraw socially as a coping mechanism. Other victims of queer bullying may begin to live the effects of learned helplessness. Queer or questioning students may try to pass as heterosexual in order to avoid queer bullying. Passing isolates the student from other queer or questioning students, potential allies, and support. Adults who try to pass also may feel the effects emotionally and psychologically, of this effort to conceal their true identities. Queer and questioning youth who experience bullying have a higher incidence of substance abuse and STI and HIV infection, which may carry through to adulthood. Queer bullying may also be seen as a manifestation of what American academic Ilan Meyer calls minority stress, which may affect sexual and ethno-racial minorities attempting to exist within a challenging broader society.
Homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings can be categorized as explicit and implicit. Explicit homophobic and transphobic violence consists of overt acts that make subjects feel uncomfortable, hurt, humiliated or intimidated. Peers and educational staff are unlikely to intervene when witnessing these incidents. This contributes to normalizing such acts that become accepted as either a routine disciplinary measure or a means to resolve conflicts among students. Homophobic and transphobic violence – as with all school-related gender-based violence – is acutely underreported due to subjects’ fear of retribution, combined with inadequate or non-existent reporting, support and redress systems. The absence of effective policies, protection or remedies contributes to a vicious cycle where incidents become increasingly normal.
Implicit homophobic and transphobic violence, sometimes called ‘symbolic violence’ or ‘institutional’ violence, is subtler than explicit violence. It consists of pervasive representations or attitudes that sometimes feel harmless or natural to the school community, but that allow or encourage homophobia and transphobia, including perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Policies and guidelines can reinforce or embed these representations or attitudes, whether in an individual institution or across an entire education sector. This way, they can become part of everyday practices and rules guiding school behaviour. Examples of implicit homophobic and transphobic violence include:
- Asserting that some subjects are better suited to students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression (for example, science for heterosexual male students and drama for gay male students).
- Suggesting that it is normal for heterosexual students to have greater agency or influence (for example, with the opinions of LGBTI students treated as marginal and unimportant).
- Reinforcing stereotypes related to sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in curriculum materials or teacher training, such as through images and discourse (for example, that refer to heterosexuality as ‘normal’).
- Reinforcing stereotypes related to sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in educational policies, rules and regulations (for example, by not even acknowledging that LGBTI students are part of the school community and by not specifying them in relevant policies).
Statistics and examples
Teens face harassment, threats, and violence. A 1998 study in the US by Mental Health America found that students heard anti-gay slurs such as “homo”, “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 times a day on average, or once every 14 minutes. In a study conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, a union for UK professionals, the word “gay” was reported to be the most popular term of abuse heard by teachers on a regular basis.
About two-thirds of gay and lesbian students in British schools have suffered from gay bullying in 2007, according to a study done by the Schools Education Unit for LGB activist group Stonewall. Almost all that had been bullied had experienced verbal attacks, 41 percent had been physically attacked, and 17 percent had received death threats. It also showed that over 50% of teachers did not respond to homophobic language which they had explicitly heard in the classroom, and only 25% of schools had told their students that homophobic bullying was wrong, showing “a shocking picture of the extent of homophobic bullying undertaken by fellow pupils and, alarmingly, school staff”, with further studies conducted by the same charity in 2012 stated that 90% of teachers had had no training on the prevention of homophobic bullying. However, Ofsted’s new 2012 framework did ask schools what they would be doing in order to combat the issue.
The rate of suicide is higher among LGBT people. According to a 1979 Jay and Young study, 40 percent of gay men and 39 percent of gay women in the US had attempted or seriously thought about suicide. In the same study conducted by the Schools Education Unit for LGB activist group Stonewall, an online survey reported that 71 percent of the girl participants who identified as LGBTQ, and 57 percent of the boy participants who identified as LGBTQ had seriously considered suicide. In 1985, F. Paris estimated that suicides by gay youth may comprise up to 30 percent of all youth suicides in the US. This contributes to suicide being the third leading cause for death among youth aged 10–24, reported by the CDC. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has found that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth attempt suicide at a rate three to six times that of similar-age heterosexual youth. The Schools Education Unit also reports that in the same online survey, 25 percent of the people who identified as LGBTQ, have attempted to commit suicide.
- In 1996, Jamie Nabozny won a landmark lawsuit (Nabozny v. Podlesny) against officials at his former public high school in Ashland, Wisconsin over their refusal to intervene in the “relentless antigay verbal and physical abuse by fellow students” to which he had been subjected and which had resulted in his hospitalization.
- Matthew Shepard was an American college student at the University of Wyoming who was both tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998, allegedly due to his sexual orientation. His death ultimately led to anti-bullying legislation such as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
- High school student Derek Henkle faced inaction from school officials when repeatedly harassed by his peers in Reno, Nevada. His lawsuit against the school district and several administrators ended in a 2002 settlement in which the district agreed to create a series of policies to protect gay and lesbian students and to pay Henkle $451,000.
- Damilola Taylor was attacked by a local gang of youths on November 27, 2000 in Peckham, South London; he bled to death after being stabbed with a broken bottle in the thigh, which severed the femoral artery. The BBC, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent newspapers reported at the time that during the weeks between arriving in the UK from Nigeria and the attack he had been subjected to bullying and beating, which included homophobic remarks by a group of boys at his school. “The bullies told him that he was gay.” He “may not have understood why he was being bullied at school, or why some other children taunted him about being ‘gay’ – the word meant nothing to him.” He had to ask his mother what ‘gay’ meant, she said “Boys were swearing at him, saying lots of horrible words. They were calling him names.” His mother had spoken about this bullying, but the teachers failed to take it seriously. “She said pupils had accused her son of being gay and had beaten him last Friday.” One month after the murder, his father said, “I spoke to him and he was crying that he was being bullied and being called names. He was being called ‘gay’.” In the New Statesman two years later, when there had still been no convictions for the crime, Peter Tatchell, gay human rights campaigner, said, “In the days leading up to his murder in south London in November 2000, he was subjected to vicious homophobic abuse and assaults,” and asked why the authorities had ignored this before and after his death.
- In 2009, Carl Joseph Walker Hoover, an 11-year-old boy in Springfield, Massachusetts, hanged himself with an electrical cord. His mother said his classmates at his middle school had bullied and called him “gay” on a daily basis.
- In 2010, a gay man from Cameroon was granted asylum in the United Kingdom after reporting that he had been attacked by an angry mob in Cameroon after they saw him kissing his male partner. The Communications Minister of Cameroon, Issa Tchiroma, denied the allegation of persecution of homosexuals.
- Tyler Clementi committed suicide on September 22, 2010, after his roommate at Rutgers University secretly recorded his sexual encounter with another man.
- A 32-year-old man in Paisley, Scotland was bullied and harassed by his employer, a Glasgow publishing firm, before he was fired. He later sued the company and won a £120,000 award.
- On October 14, 2011, Canadian teenager Jamie Hubley, the son of Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley, committed suicide after having blogged for a month about the anti-gay bullying he was facing at school. The bullying had begun as early as Grade 7, with students on Jamie’s bus attempting to stuff batteries in his mouth because he preferred figure skating over hockey.
- Phillip Parker, a 14-year-old openly gay student in Gordonsville, Tennessee, was found dead on January 20, 2012. He committed suicide because of gay bullying. His father, who is also named Phillip, says that “That’s my son. I love him. I miss him. He shouldn’t have had to kill himself to be brought to life.” Along the body was a letter, which was written: “Please help me mom”.
- Kenneth Weishuhn, a 14-year-old freshman from South O’Brien High School in Iowa, hanged himself in his family’s garage after intense anti-gay bullying, cyberbullying and death threats in 2012. His suicide was covered nationally and raised questions about what culpability bullies have in suicides.
- Jadin Bell, a 15-year-old youth in La Grande, Oregon, tried to commit suicide by hanging after intense anti-gay bullying at his high school in 2013. After life support was removed, Bell died at the OHSU hospital. His father Joe Bell started a walk across America to raise awareness about gay bullying, but was hit and killed by a truck halfway through his journey.
In the Philippines, legislators implemented Republic Act No. 10627, otherwise known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, in schools. According to the said law, gender-based bullying is defined as ˮany act that humiliates or excludes a person on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)ˮ.
In Europe Stonewall UK, and Anti-Bullying Network are active in the UK, while Russia has the Russian LGBT network.
Notable in the United States is the It Gets Better Project, for which celebrities and ordinary LGBT people make YouTube videos and share messages of hope for gay teens. The organization works with USA, The Trevor Project and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The Safe Schools Coalition provides resources for teachers and students where bullying is a problem. Egale Canada works with LGBT Canadian citizens. In Brazil, the Gay Group of Bahia (Grupo Gay da Bahia) provides support. LGBT South Africans can turn to the South African Human Rights Commission.
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From 1947 to 1961, more than 5,000 allegedly homosexual federal civil servants lost their jobs in the purges for no reason other than sexual orientation, and thousands of applicants were also rejected for federal employment for the same reason. During this period, more than 1,000 men and women were fired for suspected homosexuality from the State Department alone—a far greater number than were dismissed for their membership in the Communist party. The Cold War and anti-communist efforts provided the setting in which a sustained attack upon gay men and lesbians took place. The history of this ‘Lavender Scare’ by the federal government has been extensively documented by historian David Johnson. Johnson has demonstrated that during this era government officials intentionally engaged in campaigns to associate homosexuality with Communism: ‘homosexual’ and ‘pervert’ became synonyms for ‘Communist’ and ‘traitor.’ LGBT people were treated as a national security threat, demanding the attention of Congress, the courts, statehouses, and the media.
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