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25 April 2005
Anti-Gay Bullying Widespread In U.S. Schools
by George Atkinson

Labels such as "fag" and "lesbian" remain popular verbal weapons against students in North American schools, according to Elizabeth Meyer, a researcher from McGill University. "Students are being violently and repeatedly harassed in schools with anti-gay comments, jokes and behaviors," says Meyer, who is presenting her findings at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting.

Meyer contends that when students are victims of verbal or physical abuse, the onus for their protection falls on educators. "There needs to be a concerted effort by educators to create and offer teachers training that addresses the concerns of students who are targeted for this sort of harassment," says Meyer. "Educators need to set aside their personal prejudices and fears to effectively support and teach all students."

Educators are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students says Meyer. "In many cases teachers are not intervening and that lack of intervention allows these behaviors to continue. All students suffer when prejudices go unchecked. By accepting such antisocial behaviors, educators send the message prejudices are appropriate to our culture."

Meyer presented a summary of three legal cases where students sued their school boards for not protecting them from undue harassment. Two of the students won and a third is under appeal. "It was the high price of those settlements that forced school boards to pay attention to the rights of sexual minorities in their schools," she says.

Meyer's research found that boys are twice as likely as girls to report being called gay. She also found that:

  • 84 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students report being verbally harassed
  • 64 percent report feeling unsafe at school
  • 39 percent report being physically harassed
  • 83 percent report teachers intervening rarely or never when homophobic remarks were made

Federal laws, as well as anti-harassment policies in schools, need to be upheld to be effective. "Policies are meaningless unless they are enforced," says Meyer. "Homophobic harassment is emotionally damaging to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or any student who is perceived to be different. Only 10 U.S. states currently have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation as a protected class."

View the entire GLSEN 2003 National School Climate Survey here: http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/file/300-3.PDF

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