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Study: Bullying of LGBT students has long-term health effects

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A new study shows that LGBT students who experienced high levels of school victimization are more likely to report physical and mental health problems in early adulthood.

San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, the only community research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to decrease rejection of LGBT children, conducted the study with 245 California LGBT adults between the ages 21-25.

Out of the participants, 90 percent reported hearing the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way, 85 percent had been verbally harassed due to their sexual orientation, and 44 percent reported physical harassment.

LGBT students who reported high levels of victimization, compared to those who reported low levels of victimization, were 2.6 times more likely to report depression above the clinical cut off, and 5.6 times more likely to report having attempted suicide at least once, and having a suicide attempt that required medical attention, the study showed.

Also, students who reported high levels of victimization were more than twice as likely to having reported a STD diagnosis, and having been at risk for HIV infection.

In comparison, LGBT young adults who reported low levels of victimization reported higher levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction and social integration compared to those who experienced higher levels of victimization.

Gay and bisexual men and transgender young adults reported higher levels of victimization, compared to lesbian and bisexual women.

“I think it is consistent with the idea that violating gender norms is a bigger problem for men,” lead author Stephen Russell, a professor at the University of Arizona, said in an interview. There is more space for women to be masculine then for men to be feminine, he said.

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Bulling is not good for anybody, but it is particularly harmful if it’s based on identity, Russell said.

"We now have evidence of the lasting personal and social cost of failing to make our schools safe for all students. In our study we see the effects of school victimization up to decade later or more. It is clear that there are public health costs to LGBT-based bullying over the long-term," Russell said in a press release.

In order to stop bullying, there have to be some policy changes, Russell said.

Intervention would make a huge difference, Russell said. If teachers would make it known that discriminatory behavior is not accepted in the classroom it could help stop bullying.

Also, LGBT student clubs help, he added. “They change the school environment."

There should also be some sort of LGBT curriculum, like Tucson's Mexican American Studies program, Russell said. If students see themselves reflected in the classroom, and see that they are part of the community that would help.

“We are a long way from LGBT inclusion in the classroom in Arizona, but it is happening in California,” he said.

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