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"When Matthew Shepard died, that's when folks really started to pay attention to what was happening in the lesbian/gay/bisexual community outside of AIDS, and really focusing on youth," says Laura McGinnis, communications director for the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group.

GLSEN has compiled research showing that gay teens are overwhelmingly more likely than heterosexuals to face harassment at school. The most recent figures from that study revealed that 84.6 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed; a third of gay kids had skipped school in the month prior to the study because they were afraid of their classmates.

A Northwestern University researcher just published the first longitudinal study on LGBT youth and suicide. It found that victims of bullying were two and a half times more likely than non-victims to attempt suicide or hurt themselves. It also showed that even when the kids had supportive figures in their lives, harassment still correlated strongly with suicidal thoughts.

"The vast majority of LGBT youth in our sample had experienced some kind of victimization," says Dr. Brian Mustanski, the lead author and director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program. "People had spit on them or yelled at them, threatened or physically attacked them."

By the time the suicides of September 2010 occurred, the correlation between gay bullying and self-harm was becoming too obvious to ignore.

"We should no longer accept the idea that bullying is a rite of passage for young people," says Carolyn Laub, founder and executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. "What we know from years of practice on the ground is that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment and name-calling are learned behaviors, and they can be interrupted and stopped."

******

What gay students go through isn't bullying as it's conventionally understood.

"Those kids have not been bullied; they've been harassed," says Dr. Susan Strauss, author of Sexual Harassment and Bullying: A Guide to Keeping Kids Safe and Holding Schools Accountable. "It requires the schools to respond differently. It's important for parents to know if the school doesn't respond, they can file charges with the state's department of civil rights."

In one GLSEN survey, a scant 9 percent of school principals believed anti-gay bullying was happening "often" in their schools. Nearly all of the schools had anti-bullying policies in place, but only 46 percent specifically mentioned sexual orientation. Similarly, 49 states have anti-bullying laws on the books, but only fourteen of them include protection based specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"You can craft that in such a way that the school has the ability to really step in with any bullying it sees, and at the same time put other schools and students on notice," says Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director with the Human Rights Campaign. "There are certain types of bullying that occur more frequently and are a huge problem, and we won't ignore it."

It's not just a matter of semantics. A growing body of research shows that students who attend schools with "enumerated" gay-bullying policies hear fewer slurs and are less likely to skip class than those who don't. A California Safe Schools Coalition report found that kids felt safer in school when they knew they had access to information about LGBT issues.

"We know that there are things that happen in a school that make it less likely for these kinds of behaviors to be enacted," says Dr. Stacey Horn, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

That makes laws that attempt to cover up the gay-bullying problem all the more insidious. States that have "no homo promo" laws on the books have significantly fewer Gay-Straight Alliances. This year, "Don't Say Gay" laws gained traction in Tennessee, Utah and Missouri; they would make any mention of homosexuality in school impermissible.

And there are troubling new programs schools use to block potentially life-saving information. In Camdenton, Missouri, a school district fought back when the American Civil Liberties Union's "Don't Filter Me" campaign asked it to dismantle web-filtering software that prevented access to educational LGBT websites like Campus Pride. In the ensuing court case, a federal judge ruled that "Camdenton's Internet-filter system stigmatizes, or at least burdens, websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT issues."

Camdenton may not be the worst of it, according to Chris Hampton, of the ACLU's LGBT Project. "We got tons of reports of this going on all over the place," she says. "We even found a few schools that blocked us while 'pray away the gay' websites are accessible."

******

In the Internet age, bullying doesn't stop when kids leave school; it continues online.

Take Zach King, for example. A fifteen-year-old boy from rural Ohio, King was beaten so badly in a high-school classroom that two of his teeth were chipped. But it wasn't until he got home and logged in that he realized the beating had been recorded with a cell-phone camera.

"It was posted to his Facebook wall," says Becky Collins, Zach's mom. "The wording was worse than the actual fight: 'Ha-ha, my cousin beat the fuck out of Zach King.'"

There's surprisingly little research on LGBT youth and cyber-bullying. One small study out of Iowa State University found that of 444 mostly LGBT students, 54 percent had been cyberbullied in the last month — and 26 percent of those who had been bullied experienced suicidal thoughts as a result.

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20 comments
U.S. Citizen
U.S. Citizen

Wow - what a stretch to know what Romney's intent was when that incident occurred in 1960. That's pathetic journalism.

Nunya
Nunya

who finds Mitt handsome?

Phxguy1940
Phxguy1940

you want to find gays on campus? look first toward the athletic department and then to the administrators...youll find plenty of them there

Josejose
Josejose

Wow, this article is not biased toward homos and democrats at all is it?? Sickening

Faycless
Faycless

Homosexuals will be a federally protected class? What exactly does that mean?

SEO Company India
SEO Company India

I went to university in the Anoka-Hennepin section and the only factor about this that amazed me was that someone is lastly doing something about it. A lot of violence went on toward a lot of children for a lot of different factors and the educational institutions never did anything to try to quit it as far as I remember. Sometimes personal instructors would but the section as a whole didn't really health care all that much about their learners.

dirtydave777
dirtydave777

Lets all throw a pity party and elevate them higher on the Victim pedestal.The only thing lower than these social lowlifes are the whiners who encourage them.GROW UP and quit looking for reasons to be a crybaby.Life's hard.....It's even harder when your Stupid.

Phxguy1940
Phxguy1940

i'd like to see your comment after your gay son comes home beaten and bloody from bullying or your daughter is raped just to show her how "real men" take care of women...its knuckle draggers like you that perpetuate this kind of behavior...too bad you had to miss germany in the 30s...youd have really liked that

Crandle
Crandle

...when "your" Stupid.When your Stupid does what?

Funguy5244
Funguy5244

Dirty Dave thinks its ok to be cruel. I wouldn't want to be part of his family or his pet.

Terry Ray Anderson
Terry Ray Anderson

Most bullies have always been bullies from an early age. Corporate Bully Romney now wants to be President Bully Romney, having been Schoolhouse Bully Romney. Whether it was a gay kid or a fat kid or a forgeign kid or nerd kid is unimportant, bullying is unacceptable. It is the idiocy of power over those who have none, and it is un-American to allow ANY underdog to suffer ill treatment by those who gain their glory at the expence of those who cannot defend themselves.

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments -- even Wilk's -- in our print letters to the editor section, ideally with full names/towns. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

Jo Jonesey
Jo Jonesey

This is what Americans call "CIVILIZATION"?

Joey Loughary
Joey Loughary

gays are a center target for a lot i wonder if "brad" has ever been harassed in his life ... its nice to know that so much is being done about bulling in all spectrum's and one day maybe we wont have so many annoying dipsticks bulling and harassing people cause of the differences there are between them ....... there is still a lot we can do and a lot more should be done........... westword best blade of grass growing i have read keep up the good work

Brad
Brad

Hate to break it to you Westword but there are others living in this world who also get harassed besides gays. It seems to me you couldn't possible comprehend the idea of leaving the homosexual issue alone for 10 minutes and writing about other issues. Here is a small list of people who get harassed on a daily basis in our public school system.

Fat peopleSkinny peopleShort peopleTall peopleJewish peoplePeople who wear thick glassesNerdsFashion victimsVirginsGoths and freaksSluts

and the list goes on and on. Your articles are about as boring and dull as watching the grass grow. I think you can spare the general public from your next worthless article..."Cross dressing gays don't always feel accepted while riding the bus".

Someone
Someone

I went to school in the Anoka-Hennepin district and the only thing about this that surprised me was that someone is finally doing something about it. A lot of bullying went on toward a lot of kids for a lot of different reasons and the schools never did anything to try to stop it as far as I recall. Occasionally individual teachers would but the district as a whole didn't really care all that much about their students.

The Wilk
The Wilk

I wonder how newspapers like Westword survived without weekly stories promoting gay, marijuana, and goth newslines! Patty, you should be ashamed!

Lilly
Lilly

You're pretty stupid and really pathetic (and really confused).

Wilk the Moron has written in the past:

"It is not the duty of DPS to feed the world. Those kids need to carry lunch and eat breakfast at home like kids have done for two hundred years in this country. Their parents have set a great example of freeloading. Let's not teach the kids to do it for the next 75 years. And how many illegals are we feeding this week?" - Sigh... I hope you're never mistaken for a humanitarian or anyone with a soul. Quick, someone get the garlic and a wooden stake!

"These two are so anti-business that I can't believe the liberal Denver Post, mouthpiece for the N Y Times, has the guts to publish this article! Time after time, these hens vote anti-business. I can't believe the residents of Degette's district are stupid enough to fall for her extreme style of Socialism...unless they are all on welfare!" - You probably used a dictionary to look up socialism, but I don't think you really know what it means. Ask a Frenchman what socialism is and if we have it here in the US. We don't, you backwoods, redneck idiot.

"The very students that need abstinence only instruction are the very same students that fail in school, produce babies like rabbits, drop out, and are dependent on the government for the rest of their lives. They are raised w/o self control and are happy to display no self control when faced with sexual situations!" - Huh. That seems like a liberal idea. Are you a closet liberal, Wilk? It's said that some of the most anti-homosexual individuals out there are secretly gay and that their stance on homosexuality is meant to draw attention away from their true selves. I think you've just proven that the same concept applies to you, but you're hiding something a little different.

To top it all off, you're reading the Westword. You must be a gay stoner goth. You probably also like fish sticks. You probably like to put them in your mouth.

 
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