Study: Sexual Minority Kids More Likely To Be Bullied — As Early As 5th Grade

A new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital paints a bleak picture of the social lives of many kids who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual: As early as fifth grade, researchers report, these sexual minority youth are far more likely than their peers to be bullied.

This ongoing victimization (defined in the study as at least once a week over the course of a year) can have short-term consequences, of course, but can also lead to problems down the road. Those long-term troubles include, for instance, “anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress and negative school performance,” according to the study’s lead author, Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of general pediatrics at the children’s hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

For the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers interviewed over 4,000 fifth graders and followed up with the kids again in seventh and 10th grade. In an accompanying video Schuster offers this takeaway:

What we found is that the kids who were sexual minorities were more likely to report bullying in all three grades, in 5th grade, 7th grade and 10th grade, and this was true for the boys and the girls. What was particularly striking, in 5th grade, before most of these kids would even be aware of their own sexual orientation, their own identity, or the orientation of their peers, they’re already being bullied more…

That really stood out, and it suggests that these kids, by the time they’re in 10th grade they’ve been bullied and bullied and bullied over many years.

In this context, bullying is defined as “the intentional and repeated perpetration of aggression over time by a more powerful person against a less powerful person.” In the study, researchers suggest that screening for “bullying experiences” should become more commonplace:

“Our findings underscore the importance of clinicians routinely screening youth for bullying experiences, remaining vigilant about indicators of possible bullying (e.g., unexplained trauma and school avoidance), and creating a safe environment in which youth feel comfortable discussing their sexuality. Further research could determine the effectiveness of incorporating the experiences of sexual minorities into general school-based anti-bullying programs.”

So how can parents help? In an interview Schuster offers this:

There are several things parents should be doing: creating an environment in the household where their kids feel comfortable being open with them, and an environment where the kids feel unconditional love. One of the places kids learn to bully is from watching adults around them; kids learn from their parents. So if a neighbor’s name comes up and he’s known to be gay and dad does the limp wrist thing, or mocks the neighbor, and the kid observes that, the kid learns it’s OK to mock based on who they are. It also sends a message that if there’s a gay child in the house who is not out, the message is that the kind of person dad is scorning or mocking is not just the neighbor but also the child, and that’s a terrible experience for a child, to feel that their own parent would reject them. Continue reading

Spiritual Health And Rev. Gomes: Finding Inspiration As A Black, Gay Christian At Harvard

Matt Thompson, NPR, remembers the Rev. Peter Gomes

This comment comes from our own inspiring thinker on all matters digital, journalistic and cutting-edge, NPR’s Matt Thompson, aka, our boss.

Matt poignantly recalls a particularly electrifying benediction that the late Rev. Peter Gomes delivered to a class of sleep-deprived, partied-out Harvard seniors which jolted them into sobriety. “The future is God’s gift to you,” Mr. Gomes told the young students. ”God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to abandon you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical.”

Matt writes:

I remember that benediction very well. That morning (for me it was 2002) is still one of the moments of my life that have really stuck with me. Imagine: It’s Commencement Day, a Thursday. The night before, everyone’s been partying until the wee hours, in denial about the fact that we have to be up at 6:30 in the morning to attend some sort of church service at Memorial Chapel. Bleary-eyed, yawning, we process into our dining halls for a Commencement breakfast, then march ceremonially through Harvard Square, around the Yard, and into the chapel. There’s more than 1,200 of us, so we can’t all take seats; many of us are standing or sitting on the floor. It’s still crap o’clock. We’re still tired. But then …

The pulpit of Memorial Chapel looms over the congregation like a spaceship. Into this edifice walks Reverend Gomes, seeming even larger and more impressive than the pulpit itself. Then his booming baritone electrifies the room, New England accent so pronounced it sounds British, eliminating all thoughts of sleep, transfixing us until that glorious benediction: “May you work until your life is done, may you live until your work is over.”*

As a black, gay student who’d attended Christian school all my life until Harvard, the pure fact of Reverend Gomes was a revelation. The Good Book has probably done more than anything else I’d read to put me at my peace with myself and with my ideas of God. And now I trust the good Reverend is at peace. But I’m sorry that more students won’t get a chance to experience his magic in person.

*That’s how I remember the benediction; he might have switched it up between ’98 and ’02.

Q&A: Lessons From Rutgers Internet Suicide

The front page of today’s New York Times carries the tragic story of a Rutgers freshman who committed suicide after two of his classmates secretly filmed him in a gay sexual encounter and broadcast it on the Internet.
CommonHealth just spoke with S. Bryn Austin, a public health researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. She has studied the effects of violence, bullying and harassment on gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, and the extremely negative consequences the abuse has on their health.

Q: Can this awful story be turned into a “teachable moment?” What’s the takeaway?

A: This is a devastating story. It’s despicable that this could be happening now, in 2010, in the United States, after all that we know abut how harmful anti-gay harassment and anti-gay stigma are. It’s inhumane and it’s intolerable. I think what we need to realize in our communities — in our university settings or churches or synagogues or neighborhoods — is that it’s our responsibility to protect our youth and each other from this kind of harassment because it is so harmful. I would guess that the folks who were involved in this might not themselves be terrible people; the mistake they made is in not realizing that they were tapping into a very powerful and dangerous stigma and environment of harassment that gay and lesbian and bisexual youth have to live through every day, 24/7. And that added so much power to the harmful and disrespectful and inhumane behavior that they perpetrated against this youth. Continue reading