Paradigm’s own Linda Reeves, MA, LMFT, recently provided outreach to staff at the Santa Monica Malibu Unified school district about the harmful psychosocial and emotional impacts of bullying on LGBT students. Linda is the proud mother of a gay son who dealt with bullying issues at school, so this is a subject near and dear to her heart. Linda is also the co-founder (with Andrew Merrell, MA, LMFT, a former Paradigm staff member) of the Prism Institute, which offers LGBT diversity education on these issues.
Linda’s focus during the presentation was to illuminate the ways in which heteronormative and LGBT phobic cultural constructs influence identity development. She explains how these institutionalized perspectives cause the LGBT student population to be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of bullying. According to the journal Pediatrics, LGBT youth are 5.9 times more likely to be depressed, 3.4 times more likely to be involved with drugs, and 4 times more likely to be susceptible to sexual abuse. “Helping people become aware of the ways our society and institutions oppress, undervalue and harm LGBT+ youth is the first step toward inspiring change,” Reeves said. Developing anti-bullying practices that focus on students who are LGBT can not only create a more inclusive and safe atmosphere at school, but it can also reduce substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide among these youth.
LGBT Youth and Suicide
Reeves asserts it is vital that schools address their policies and educate staff so they understand the negative impacts of complacency. Not only do 60% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school, but each incidence of physical or verbal harassment or abuse increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times. Linda’s work at Paradigm has exposed her to the painful reality that LGBT youth are also highly susceptible to suicide.
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBT youth nationally and it is conservatively estimated that 1,500 gay and lesbian youth commit suicide every year
- Suicide attempts by lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely, and questioning youth are three times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers.
How Schools Can Help LGBT Students
Some of the ways that schools can help LGBT students feel safer and more welcomed include:
- Conduct diversity training so teachers and staff understand how to best support LGBT students and their families.
- Implement strong policies that send the message that LGBT students are not to be treated differently than any other students. Gender identity protection should be added to anti-bullying policies.
- Create or encourage Genders & Sexualities Alliance clubs (GSAs), which are entitled to the same protection as other non-curricular groups and clubs at any particular school.
- Follow federal and state laws that cover anti-bullying measures designed to protect students who identify as LGBT. In California, groups protected by anti-bullying laws and regulations include gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
The Prism Institute, as the mission statement says, is devoted to illuminating the spectrum of human identity and transforming perceptions about LGBT+ persons to enrich individuals, institutions, and communities. One of their goals is to help people move from tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community toward affirmation. Prism Institute works with schools, businesses, mental health and healthcare organizations and municipalities to provide training, educational seminars, and consulting.
If your business, group or agency would like to talk to someone at Prism Institute about creating a customized staff education or training program, you can contact them and let them know your needs. By participating in these types of diversity education opportunities, you are telling the LGBT community that they matter to you and your organization.