School failed to protect him, like many schools fail LGBTQ kids
Photo by Oksana Mizina on Shutterstock
LGBTQ kids deserve safe schools
High school should be a safe place for teenagers to learn and grow. For many queer kids, though, especially in rural America, school can be a virtual torture chamber. Less than two weeks ago, a boy in Kentucky killed himself when fellow students outed him. Now news is breaking about a West Virginia boy whose school took no measures to protect him from physical assault and rape. These two cases illustrate a large, hidden, growing problem in the United States.
Many gay teens find refuge in student theater clubs
When I was a teen, my school?s drama club felt like a safe haven. Many gay men report similar experiences growing up. But for one high school student in Morgantown, West Virginia, an after-school drama club reportedly turned into a homophobic nightmare. Fellow students taunted, bullied, physically assaulted him, and threatened to out him. His mother reported the abuse to the program director and to the high school principal. Neither person took any meaningful steps to ensure the teen?s safety.
Several weeks later, one of the boy?s bullies raped him
The student stayed silent for seven months after the sexual assault in the theater dressing room, fitting a pattern where rape victims, especially male rape victims, feel too ashamed or powerless to confide in anyone.
In fact, bullying of LGBTQ youth has been climbing steadily, reaching unprecedented highs by 2017.
During those months, the rapist continued to bully and threaten the boy, eventually following through with threats to out him to fellow students as gay.
That?s when the teen finally worked up the courage to go to a teacher. He confided to her that he was being bullied and admitted that he?d been raped. Given the shame that rape victims often feel, the boy?s decision to confide in his teacher must have been very difficult. He reached out to her for protection and justice.
The teacher took no action
She didn?t report the rape despite the fact that she was required to under West Virginia law. According to reports, the victim of the rape ?was forced to see and interact with his assailant on a regular basis at school and activities, which caused him great pain and trauma.?
The boy told his mother
Finally, a year and a half after the rape, and 11 months after he had told his teacher about it, the boy told his mother that he?d been raped. The teacher sent the boy?s mother ?a text message admitting that (the victim) had reported the rape and other assaults to her and that she decided not to report said incidents because she did not want to betray his trust.?
The mother went to the board of education seeking protection
Nothing happened. The school board took no meaningful action. The school took no meaningful action. The boy still has to go to school with his rapist and has to interact with him every day. The teacher who broke the law by not reporting the sexual assault of a child still works at the school. The rapist has reportedly faced no meaningful consequences for his actions, nor have any of the other students who bullied the boy.
The school has taught the staff and student body lots of lessons
- Taunting and physically abusing kids for being LGBTQ carries little cost
- Sexual assaults of LGBTQ kids can be swept under a rug
- Reporting bullying doesn?t work; adults will not protect kids
- Reporting sexual assault isn?t worth the effort
- Teachers can violate mandatory reporting laws and keep their jobs
Anti-LGBTQ school bullying is a huge problem
LGBTQ kids deserve safe schools, but they rarely have them. According to data compiled by the US government, anti-LGBTQ bullying is endemic in American schools. LGBTQ students are more than twice as likely to be bullied as their straight/cis peers.
Data from the 2013 National School Climate Survey
- 74.1% of LGBT students were verbally bullied or threatened in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 55.2% because of their gender expression
- 36.2% of LGBT students were physically bullied or assaulted in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 22.7% because of their gender expression
- 49% of LGBT students experienced cyberbullying in the past year
- 55.5% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37.8% because of their gender expression
- 30.3% of LGBT students missed at least one entire day at school in the past month because they felt unsafe, and 10.6% missed four or more days in the past month
Bullying is getting worse, hitting unprecedented highs in 2017
North Carolina-based research firm RTI International tracked 20 years of data on school bullying and conducted a meta-analysis of those findings. They found that ?despite assumptions that today?s youth are more welcoming and accepting of LGBTQ identities, widespread targeting of such youth has not improved since the 1990s.?
In fact, bullying of LGBTQ youth has been climbing steadily, reaching unprecedented highs by 2017. Researchers point out that while youth in urban areas and liberal bubbles do enjoy enjoy greater acceptance, increased bullying and violence in rural and conservative areas are driving the higher overall numbers.
Bullying puts students in a dangerous Catch 22
Research shows that being ?out? is important for good mental health. LGBTQ people who come out and live out are mentally healthier and report happier and more fulfilling lives.
The opposite can be true for teens if their schools don?t protect them from the bullying that results from being open about sexual orientation or gender identity. For LGBTQ youth as a class in the United States, ?coming out? has been linked to school victimization, which in turn is associated with negative adjustment and with poor mental health outcomes like severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.
You can help stop anti-LGBTQ school bullying
Are you a parent or other adult who suspects that LGBTQ kids you know are being bullied in school? If you act now, you can help save lives and prevent serious harm.
One thing you can do is join PFLAG, a respected advocacy organization made up of friends, families, and allies of LGBTQ youth. If PFLAG doesn?t have a local chapter in your area, you can help start one, or you can access their training programs and tap into their expertise in working with schools to reduce bullying.
Our 400+ chapter network provides confidential peer support, education and advocacy in communities in nearly all 50?
PFLAG chapters ?work directly with schools and stakeholders in their communities, providing support, resources, training, creative programs, and even model policy to create an environment of respect.?
Are you an LGBTQ teen suffering from bullying?
Do you get bullied or do you know other kids who do? If your school doesn?t have your back, reach out today to a trusted adult or contact GLSEN, a school safety advocacy organization with decades of experiencing helping to make schools safer for LGBTQ teens.
Championing LGBTQ issues in K-12 education since 1990
Our mission is to create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or?
Learn how to start a GSA club in your school. GSAs are proven to reduce bullying and improve acceptance for all students. All schools that offer any sort of student clubs must, according to federal law, offer a GSA club if students want to start one.
Don?t suffer in silence. Call the Trevor Project.
If you?re an LGBTQ teen feeling hopeless about bullying, if you?re depressed or thinking about suicide, the Trevor Project?s trained counselors have your back 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives
Our trained counselors are here to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need?
They can help you work through your feelings, and they can point you to helpful resources you can use to get the bullying stopped. You deserve a safe school. You deserve to be free from harassment, threats, and violence. You don?t deserve to be abused because you?re LGBTQ, and the Trevor Project can help you figure out how to be safe.
No LGBTQ kid deserves to be bullied, outed, or raped
Sadly, schools often aren?t safe for queer teens, as recent events demonstrate and as data substantiates. All of us, LGBTQ or otherwise, need to educate ourselves and be aware of the struggles our youth can experience. We need to be ready to step in, lend a hand, or offer a referral to skilled and experienced advocates.
Working together in a spirit of love and respect, we can help make schools the safe havens they?re meant to be.
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an ?agented? novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected].