Homophobia is more alive than ever. Each day homophobia takes places in the world through vicious spoken, written and physical acts. One place in society that homophobic acts are alive and predominant is in our schools. Homophobia takes places in a variety of ways in school, from offensive jokes, threats, harassment, or physical assault made towards lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth. As Campos describes in Diverse Sexuality and School, “homophobia denotes a fear or hatred of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender youth; it encompasses the prejudice or discrimination experienced by such persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity” (8).
Society may be advancing in the aspect of understanding, but schools still have a long way because all students need to be educated on every type of sexuality.
From a personal reflection, I recall taking a class on teen education in my tenth year of grade school; I do not recall being educated on any other sexuality other than heterosexuality and this was only six years ago.
Today I ask the question, why? Are teachers just as homophobic as some students are? In a Canadian report entitled, Every Class in Every School: Final Report on the First National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools, Taylor and Peter explore alarming statistics.
“70 percent of all LGBT and non-LBGT students reported hearing expressions such as ‘that’s so gay’ every day in school, and almost 48 percent reported hearing remarks such as ‘faggot, lezbo, and dyke’ every day in school. 10 percent of students have heard homophobic statements from teachers. 70 percent of LGBT students said they feel unsafe in school” (Taylor and Peter 15). These facts are alarming, scary, and most of all true. The focus of my research is to focus on homophobic acts and examples, the effects of these acts, and ways to overcome homophobia. Homophobia is defined as a extreme rage and fear towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender which causes devastating effects; the only way to overcome homophobia is through education in our schools, education on the beauty, tolerance, and acceptance of each individual’s diversity.
To truly understand homophobia, it is important to hear real-life stories and incidents that have perpetrated young homosexual, bisexual or transgender youth. The stories that will be introduced truly show that some adolescents have extremely difficulty accepting persons who do not conform to the social norms of society. Homophobia acts become a part of the daily routine at school. “I was chased all the way to my house by a mob of students as things were thrown at me and I was kicked and hit” (Campos 34). If these students chasing the young individual do not get caught, the students believe their mistreatment of a homosexual youth as permissible and justifiable; they will do it and again. As Campos describes, “befriending, supporting or defending a gay or lesbian youth is risky for a nonviolent heterosexual youth because they could potentially be labelled as gay or lesbian and face potential harassment as well” (34).
They biggest fear for heterosexual youth is that he or she does not want to be called gay or lesbian because the heterosexual youth knows that he or she will become the next victim. It is truly a game of fear. An example of fear is shown in the following taken from Gender, Bulling and Harassment: Strategies to End Sexism and Homophobia in Schools, “On February 12, 2008, 15 year old Larry King was shot in the computer classroom of his California junior high school by another male student after Larry had asked him to be his valentine. Larry was known in his school not only for being openly gay but also wearing high heels, nail polish, and makeup. The tragic incident is one of the more recent and extreme examples of why it was important to write this book” (Meyer 9).
The outcome of extreme homophobia is devastating as shown in the above example. The extent a heterosexual youth would go just to eliminate the label of being associated with a homosexual youth is inhumane. What bothers me the most is the extreme spectrum between the acceptance and hatred of non-heterosexual youth; there is not a “free to be” attitude all together. For example, we have Nicole who won’t associate with Kayla, who is a lesbian, because she fears Kayla will like her and other girls will think Nicole is also a lesbian; therefore Nicole calls Kayla a “dyke” everyday in gym class and bullies Kayla because she wears boxers.
Then on the other side of the spectrum, we have Hayden who is more than happy to accept his best friend Max as homosexual. In fact, Hayden asked Max to join the soccer team with him and the rest of the soccer team warmly welcomed Max as one of the guys. Both examples are very possible in society and schools today and both examples reflect the culture of the school as a whole. Unfortunately, the example with Kayla and Nicole is something that takes place much more frequent than the story of Hayden and Max because “rarely do schools contribute positively to gay and lesbian youth’s sexual identity development” (Campos 23). Schools lack education on sexual and gender diversity which leads to horrible acts causing LGBT youth to endure the overwhelming effects of homophobia.
The effects on a LGBT youth because of homophobia can be fatal. In the past few years, there have been numerous suicides as a result of homophobia and bullying. In Understanding Gay and Lesbian Youth, Campos introduces us to Robbie who is a 14 year old gay youth who ended his life. In Robbie’s suicide note he wrote, “I am sorry for the pain that I have put everyone through, I hope I can find the peace that I couldn’t find in life.” One can only imagine the amount of unbearable pressure and pain that Robbie endured every day of his young life to believe that his only option was to take his life. However, students still do not stop bullying despite the fact that they are killing non-heterosexual youth, emotionally and physically. “LGBT youth face three major problems: (1) isolation, (2) family difficulties, and (3) violence” (Martin and Hetrick, 85). Suicide among homosexual youth is one of the greatest at risk factors because some researchers believe that no other group of youth suffers more than gay and lesbian youth. The biggest reason for these effects is because of the lack of education, supports and resources.
Schools choose not to teach about homosexuality because either a) teachers do not feel competent enough, b) teachers do not feel comfortable enough in regards to school policy, or c) teachers are also homophobic. Whatever the reason may be, schools must put students first. When gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth face unacceptance from their teachers who are supposed to be their role models, the youth feels “cognitively, socially, and emotionally isolated and alone leading to the development of severe problems” (Campos 30). Some problems that occur among school personnel are that they are wrongly educated on what it means to be homosexual and the effects of homophobia. In my research and personal interactions I have found that school personnel assume that gay and lesbian youth have a sexual identity crisis or an internal conflict which causes them to consider suicide. “The fact is that most gay and lesbian youth consider suicide as a means to escape the pain of prejudice, rejection and isolation” (Campos 21). The question is how the youth reaches the point of choosing suicide as the only option left.
The best way to answer this question is to sit back and think about one’s adolescence as a heterosexual individual. As a heterosexual individual you were more than likely able to roam the hallways freely without be ostracized, alienated, ridiculed, condemned or harassed every day. I am not assuming that one, as a heterosexual youth, did not face harassment at all, but not on a daily routine and normal part of the day. The daily routine of feeling unsafe within the doors of the school would become unbearable. As Campos describes in Understanding Gay and Lesbian Youth, “they began to feel anxiety, fear, worthlessness, stress, isolation, and depression” (20).
The result of these feelings lead youth to engage in self destructive behaviours, beginning with skipping classes, dropping out, running away, and abusing substances. To validate this previous statement, Safe Schools Coalition in Victoria, BC, features official research on the impact of homophobic bullying. The following excerpt, taken from the SSVC website, explains why homophobia is so serious. “Critical new research has found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth who experience high levels of school victimization in middle and high school report impaired health and mental health in young adulthood, including depression, suicide attempts that require medical care, sexually transmitted diseases and risk for HIV.
This is the first known study to examine the relationship between school victimization during adolescence – specifically related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The study demonstrates the importance of addressing and preventing anti-LGBT victimization at the structural or school level to reduce health disparities among LGBT young people. The study is published in the Journal of School Health, the journal of the American School Health Association” (SSVC) The last question left is “what can one do?” to overcome homophobia. There are many things within the school – academically, socially, and morally – that need to be altered, changed and transformed.