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How Are LGBT Youths Affected by Discrimination and What Can Schools Do to

Help?

This essay shows how discrimination leads to increased high school drop out rates for
LGBT youths and, of greater concern, increased rates of suicide and substance abuse.
Gaell Jocelyn-Blackman

Abstract

In this paper, I will discuss the different types of discrimination that LGBT youths are
faced with and the effects on these youths. The paper will elaborate on the severe
impacts on LGBT youths not only caused by discrimination but also due to lack of
support and guidance. The paper will also discuss the roles of the parents and schools
in helping minimize discrimination against LGBT youths. This paper will also hopefully
instruct schools and parents to accept and support gay students rather than add to the
discrimination that they already face. Doing so will reduce the high school drop out rate
and most importantly the youth suicide rate. In essence, the purpose of this research
paper is to identify the different effects on LGBT youths due to discrimination and to
explore various actions that can and should be taken by schools and parents to help
these youths live a normal and happy life. Therefore, my target audience is the school
system as well as the parents of LGBT youths.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youths. Gay and lesbian
youths are 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Over
30% of all reported teen suicides each year are committed by gay and lesbian
youths. . . . Gays and lesbians are at much higher risk than the heterosexual population
for alcohol and drug abuse. Approximately 30% of both the lesbian and gay male
populations have problems with alcohol. Gay and lesbian youth are at greater risk for
school failure than heterosexual children. (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 1989, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)
Substantially higher proportions of homosexual people use alcohol, marijuana or
cocaine than is the case in the general population. (McKirnan & Peterson, 1989, as
cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

Approximately 28% of gay and lesbian youths drop out of high school because of
discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school environment. (Remafedi,
1987, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

Gay and lesbian youths discomfort stems from fear of name calling and physical harm.
(Eversole, n.d, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

Many people are guilty of discrimination against LGBT youths, whether consciously or
unconsciously. LGBT youths are faced with daily discrimination from society, peers,
family and even school teachers and administrations. The above statistics not only
show that LGBT youths lack support and guidance but also prove how much these
youths are clearly affected, in more ways than one, by discrimination. Cole (2007)
mentions that there is a higher rate of abuse, neglect, and discrimination against LGBT
youths than straight youths. I believe that most parents would prefer their children to be
straight than to be gay, and most school officials also prefer straight students over gay
students. This preference could be a contributing factor in discrimination against LGBT
youths. This paper will hopefully capture the attention of parents and schools and
perhaps help modify their outlook on LGBT youths. Fundamentally, I will attempt to
answer the following questions throughout the paper: What are the effects of
discrimination against LGBT youths? What is the role of the parents? What is the role of
the schools? How can parents and schools work together to help minimize
discrimination against LGBT youths? What more can be done? Before answering those
questions, I will start by addressing the types of discrimination that LGBT youths are
faced with.

Types of Discrimination
Some of the comments that LGBT youths are faced with are as follows: I hate gays.
They should be banned from this country; Get away from me, you faggot. I cant stand
the sight of you; These queers make my stomach turn. Those are only a few of the
biased statements that LBGT youths are faced with in society. According to Cole (2007),
the word faggot is often used by anti-gay peers to terrorize LGBT youths. Words such
as faggot or gay are sometimes used in a negative sense to express something
either stupid or uncool (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.35). When that occurs, it shows
an even greater sign of discrimination against LGBT youths. I noticed that these words
are not only used in the real world but also in movies and TV shows which makes it
harder for LGBT youths to deal with. In addition to the discrimination from society and
their peers, LGBT youths also endure discrimination from home/families and particularly
schools.
Todays Gay Youth: The Ugly, Frightening Statistics (n.d.) reports that one half of
LGBT youths are neglected by their parents because of their sexual preference and
approximately a quarter of LGBT youths are mandated to leave their homes. Cole
(2007) explains that rejected LGBT youths generally do not learn how to build a
relationship with peers or families. As a result, it creates a state of loneliness and
isolation for them. Some LGBT youths are both verbally and physically abused by
parents (Todays Gay Youth, n.d.). In addition, roughly about 40% of youths that are
homeless are classified as LGBT youths. The same article shows 27% of male
teenagers who classified themselves as gay or bisexual left home due to quarrels with
family members over their sexuality. Needless to say, parents and families play a big
part in discrimination against LGBT youths and the effects that it has on them.

Nevertheless, it appears that the majority of the discrimination against LGBT youths
emanates from the schools that they attend. Are schools taking any actions to minimize
discrimination against gay students? What are they doing to help these adolescents?
The following quote is an explicit example of how schools can contribute to
discrimination against LGBT youths:
I took a call from one sixteen-year-old who came out to his counselor. The only other
person hed told was his friend in California. The counselor said, I cant help you with
that. After he left, the counselor called his mother to make sure she knew. The youth
went home that night not knowing that hed been outed to his parents. Sitting around the
dinner table, his mother said to him, I got a call from the school counselor today. Were
not going to have any gay kids in this family. His father took him outside and beat him.
(as cited in Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.106)
Human Rights Watch (2001) also reports that the same youth was harassed by his
peers once they found out about his sexuality. At this point he turned to suicide, but was
fortunately taken in by a family member who lived out of state where he finished school
(p. 106). In the mentioned quote, the sixteen-year-old student did not get any support
from his school guidance counselor or his parents. If his own school and parents would
not give him any guidance or support, who else could he turn to? What is the
alternative? This example could be a common concern throughout the world, where
LGBT youths are not comfortable with their gender at school at home. Consequently,
they are faced with an alternative which is rarely a positive one. The alternatives that
they face may include depression, substance abuse, violence, and even suicide.

Effects of Discrimination
LGBT youths endure hostile verbal and physical harassment that can be excruciating
for them (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35). Human Rights Watch (2001) also states
that although the youths that were interviewed emphasized their fear of physical and
sexual assault, being called words like faggot, queer, or dyke, daily is still
destructive (p.35).
One young gay youth who had dropped out of an honors program angrily protested,
just because I am gay doesnt mean I am stupid, as he told of hearing thats so gay
meaning thats so stupid, not just from other students but from teachers in his school.
(Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35)

Over 25% of LGBT youths are high school drop outs because of the discrimination they
are faced with in the school atmosphere (Todays Gay Youth, n.d.). The article also
states the LGBT youths have a greater risk of academic failure than heterosexual
students. Furthermore they dont get involved much in student activities and have very
little dedication to the schools agendas because school isnt a safe, healthy, or
productive learning environment. Therefore, LGBT youths make an attempt to live,
work, and learn with continuous fear of physical assault at school (Todays Gay Youth,
n.d.).

Physical abuse against LGBT youths usually occurs due to disregarded harassment
(Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Human Rights Watch (2001) says that the number
of physical assaults that were reported by interviewed LGBT youths had an enormous
psychological impact on them, mainly because the physical abuse followed constant
verbal and non-physical harassment that was overlooked by school officials (p. 42). For
example, a lesbian student reported that several months of harassment and verbal
threats grew to physical abuse. I got hit in the back of the head with an ice scraper. By
that point, she said she was so used to being harassed. I didnt even turn around to see
who it was (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Another incident mentioned by Human
Rights Watch (2001) involved a tenth grade gay youth who was hit in the back of the
neck with a beer bottle. He literally had to crawl to the nearest friends house for
immediate assistance. The same youth was beaten up in the seventh grade by a couple
of anti-gay kids (p. 42). One last example entails another gay youth who first suffered
from verbal assault and students throwing items at him. Subsequently, a group of anti-
gay students strangled him with a drafting line so bad that it cut him. Later that school
year the youth was dragged down a flight of stairs and cut with knives by his classmates
(Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Fortunately, he lived to talk about it.

Human Rights Watch (2001) implies that verbal and physical violence is a tension that
LGBT youths have gotten accustomed to; however, it is damaging to their psychological
wellbeing (p. 68). Many of the LGBT youths interviewed by Human Rights Watch (2001)
reported signs of depression such as: sleeplessness, excessive sleep, loss of appetite,
and feeling of hopelessness(p. 69). One reported incident involved a gay youth who
could not take it anymore. He started to skip school so that he would not have to put up
with the harassment anymore. He stayed at home all day and ended up missing fifty-six
days of school. The youth explained, It was mentally and physically stressful for me to
go to that school. I remember going home and waking up in the morning just dreading it;
dreading the fact that I would have to go back to that school (as cited in Human Rights
Watch, 2001, p. 69). Other youths reported that even when the harassment was not
addressed directly toward them, they were affected by it. One youth implied that
discrimination and harassment makes him feel like he is backed up into a corner and so
sad that he wants to cry (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 69). It is no wonder LGBT
youth turn to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Cole (2007) claims that discrimination against LGBT youths can create repression along
with a deficiency in their natural growth. Discrimination also has a social and emotional
impact on them. Instead of being social individuals, LGBT youths remain in the closet
and hide. The loneliness that they bear can turn into depression which often leads to
substance abuse or even suicide. LGBT youths have greater chances of alcohol and
substance abuse than heterosexual youths (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 1989, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d.). Also, roughly about one third of
LGBT youths have a drinking or drug problem. Human Rights Watch (2001) interviewed
some LGBT youths who say that they drink to the point of passing out or to feel good
and normal (p. 69). The lack of support from parents or schools can possibly make them
feel like there is no hope of ever living a happy life and being productive (Human Rights
Watch, 2001, p. 68).

Roles of Parents
50% of all gay and lesbian youths report that their parents reject them due to their
sexual orientation. In a study of male teenagers self-described as gay or bisexual, 27%
moved away from home because of conflict with family members over sexual
orientation. (Remafedi, 1987, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

26% of gay and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts over their
sexual orientation. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989, as cited in
Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)
In a study of 194 gay and lesbian youth, 25% were verbally abused by parents, and
nearly 10% dealt with threatened or actual violence. (DAugelli, 1997, as cited in
Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)
Approximately 40% of homeless youths are identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
(Eversole, n.d., as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

Service providers estimate that gay, lesbian and bisexual youths make up 20-40% of
homeless youth in urban areas. (National Network of Runaway and Youth Services,
1991, as cited in Todays Gay Youth, n.d., n.p.)

It appears that the lack of support, protection, and guidance from family also has a
major effect on LGBT youths. Perhaps, if their families were more supportive, the
suicide and depression rates of LGBT youths would be moderately less. I believe that
parents should embrace their children no matter what their sexual preference is. For an
adolescent, I think that family should be the primary source for seeking support and
guidance. When parents reject their gay or lesbian adolescent, I feel that it can possibly
set him or her up for failure. This era is the time when adolescents would need their
parents love and support the most. I also sense that when LGBT youths dont get the
love and support that they are looking for from parents, it contributes to their state of
depression and suicidal phase. Therefore, parents of LGBT youths should take time to
reflect on the circumstances before they make the wrong decisions.

One way of showing support would be for the youths parents or family to intervene with
the school or at least make an attempt like the mother in the following quote:
The more I talked to teachers, the superintendent, and the principal, the more they just
kept throwing up brick walls and trying to convince me I would have to let my son go
through this, Ms. Cooper said. But no child should have to go through this, whether
hes gay or not. When [bullying] gets to the point where a kid wants to quit school and
give up his future, something has to be done. (Browman, 2001, p. 3)
In the above case, the parent was being supportive to her gay son while the school
officials were not. Like many other schools, they choose to ignore the fact that the gay
student is being bullied and discriminated against. As mentioned earlier in the paper,
that kind of response from schools also contributes to the effects of depression on
LGBT youths.

Roles of Schools
Educators cannot ignore the risks faced by homosexual students, but deciding how to
deal with the issue should be a matter of local concern (Archer, 2002, n.p.). In his
article, Archer is stressing that educators must address discrimination against gay
students and must put aside their personal views to create a safe environment for these
students. In her article, Browman (2001) also talks about the lack of attention from
school teachers and administrators toward gay discrimination and harassment.
Browman (2001) acknowledges the educational effect on LGBT youths due to constant
harassment in school. A very interesting point that was made in this article is, if a
student makes a racial comment in school, he or she gets punished. So why should
remarks like dyke, fag, or queer be acceptable? Are those words equal to the same
level of discrimination as making a racial comment? The article advises that the problem
of discrimination or harassment can be addressed at the verbal stage before it gets to
the physical point or causes the youths academic learning to be harmed (Browman,
2001). The article continues to imply that teachers and administrators often fail to cease
discrimination or harassment against LGBT youth. They are either afraid of facing
prejudice from others or perhaps even because of their own prejudice (Browman, 2001).
The article also suggests a way to express to all students that harassment or
discrimination against LGBT students will not be tolerated. Consequences such as
school conduct codes and discipline policies should be established as well as anti-
harassment rules (Browman, 2001).

Browman (2001) reports that Human Rights Watch completed a two-year study on the
topic where an immediate response was obtained from educational groups such as: The
National Education Association, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational Alliance,
and The American Federation of Teachers. The three groups adhered in influencing the
Education Department to defend and protect gay and lesbian students from
discrimination. They add that schools are making an effort to create a safe environment
for all students where they can all be treated with equal respect and dignity. Accordingly,
the department fights to provide the schools with information and guidance to help solve
the problem of discrimination against LGBT youths (Browman, 2001).

Furthermore, New York City has made an attempt to come up with a solution that they
thought would possibly reduce discrimination against LGBT youths by opening an all-
gay school. I see this movement as a possible increase in discrimination against LGBT
youths. If they are all put together in one school, how is that helping them deal with
discrimination from society, peers and others outside of the school? And how is that
teaching anti-gay students not to discriminate against LGBT youths? I dont think
isolation from the rest of the world is the best solution for LGBT youths. They are human
beings just like the rest of us and they should be treated accordingly. I agree with what
is stated in Browmans (2001) article about the schools accomplishing all they can to
stop discrimination against LGBT youths.

Conclusion
The two primary sources that have the power and ability to diminish discrimination
against LGBT youths are schools and parents. In my opinion, they are the ones who
have the greatest influence on LGBT youths and in turn have the ability to reduce
substance abuse, educational failure, and suicides. Parents and schools need to realize
how much they can help diminish the effects of discrimination against LGBT youths if
they work together and productively. Clearly, if they remain on the same page they can
ease the agony for LGBT youths and help them live a normal and happy life. One
method that can be exercised in schools is a homosexual sensitivity training for anti-gay
students and school officials. The training would benefit both students and school
officials. I think that it would help the school officials manage whatever prejudices they
may have against LGBT youths. Since anti-gay bullying students are perhaps ignorant
to the subject, schools should modify a system where all students can be educated on
the subject. It would probably help the students get a better understanding if
homosexuality was compared to other subject matters such as culture and religion.
Students should be provided with a full view of the subject just like any other. If this
method helps only two out of ten anti-gay students cease discrimination against LGBT
students, I am sure that it will make a difference. An additional scheme that should be
established is monthly meetings between school officials and parents to review the
progress of measures that are already in place.
Before writing this research paper, I never imagined how immensely affected LGBT
youths were by discrimination. It is awful what they go through and how most people are
clueless or even careless about what these youths endure. LGBT youths are faced with
discrimination, torture, and sometimes even execution because of who they love, how
they look, or who they are. I believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are
integral aspects of ourselves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. Doing
this research not only made me realize the intense discrimination suffered by LGBT
youths but also had an impact on me. This research has made me want to advocate for
more laws and policies to help protect LGBT youths. I have gained a ton of information
and knowledge during this process. However, if my readers obtain half of the valuable
information that I have obtained, I know that I have accomplished my task.

References
Archer, J. (2002, February). Local schools must address safety for gays. Education
Week, 21 (23), 3. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host database.
Browman, D. H. (2001, June). Report says schools often ignore harassment of gay
students. Education Week, 20 (39), 5. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host
database.
Cole, S. (2007, April). Protecting our youth. Edge . Retrieved October 31, 2007,
from www.edgeboston.com
Human Rights Watch (2001). Hatred in the hallways. NY: Human Rights Watch.
Todays gay youth: The ugly, frightening statistics (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2007,
from www.pflagphoenix.org