LGBTQ youth, particularly in the Midwest, suffer higher rates of bullying than their straight peers, which researchers say can have long-term negative effects on their academics.
Because bullying can lower self-esteem and discourage students from coming to school or engaging with peers, learning suffers. This is magnified for LGBTQ youth, according to Dana Peterson, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany.
Peterson spoke Thursday as part of a youth violence prevention conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Teenagers who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, or identify as transgender or gender non-conforming can be subject to “systematic victimization,” Peterson said.
Nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced bullying, according to a national a survey by GLSEN, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy organization. The survey finds that more than a quarter of LGBTQ students are physically attacked at school and nearly half were victims of cyberbullying.
This impacts their education, Peterson said. “They don’t feel like they belong, they don’t feel connected to school, they don’t feel attached to the school community that would help them integrate and really focus on their studies,” she said.
That chronic victimization makes LGBTQ students three times more likely to miss school, Peterson said.
“And they have reported this is because of their fear of going to school, because of the victimization or just the hostile climate for LGBTQ young people in school,” she said.
LGBTQ youth in the South and Midwest reported higher rates of bullying to GLSEN than in other parts of the country.
Missouri needs stronger anti-bullying rules that specifically protect LGBTQ youth, Peterson said. Right now, Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws are more vague.
Schools that have Gay-Straight Alliance student groups typically have better school climates for LGBTQ youth, according to Peterson. She said educators can improve acceptance by amending school uniform policies and installing gender-neutral bathrooms, among other steps.
And teachers, Peterson said, can set strong examples for students by using preferred names for students who are transgender or gender fluid and by not using potentially hurtful language themselves.
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