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Study shows how high bullying levels are for gay, lesbian teens

Monday, August 15, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – West Michigan advocates say a new study revealing lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students are significantly more likely to be the victims of physical and sexual violence and bullying than other adolescents reinforces what they hear from local teens.

Some 15,600 students, ages 14 to 17, across the country took the U.S. Centers for Disease Control National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

"We hear this abuse echoed in the voices of LBGTQ students every week in our youth group," said Larry DeShane Jr., operations manager for the Grand Rapids Pride Center, an organization dedicated to empowering the LBGTQ community.

"All students need to have a safe, supportive environment to learn. But some kids are even scared to go to the bathroom."

DeShane said the school reality for too many LBGTQ youth is being verbally and physically abused, cyber bullied and sexually assaulted.

Some of the findings of the study include:

• Thirty-four percent of LGB students reported being bullied at school and 28 percent were bullied online.The statistics for heterosexual students were 19 and 14 percent, respectively.

• Eighteen percent of LGB students experienced being physically forced to have sex, compared to 5 percent of heterosexual students.

• Twenty-three percent experienced sexual dating violence, compared to 9 percent of heterosexual students. Eighteen percent reported physical dating violence, compared to 8 percent of heterosexuals.

Julie Cnossen, program manager for Arbor Circle's runaway and homeless youth services, said the study released last Thursday, was discussed at the Michigan Network for Youth Families annual conference.

She said locally and statewide, they all hear about the violence and bullying, as well as additional study findings that provide further insights into the dangerous intersection of risks that can place LBG students at a higher possibility for suicide, drug use and other negative outcomes.

"In addition to what they are experiencing at school, these young people are feeling a huge lack of family acceptance," she said.

"Coming out and identifying as their authentic self has gotten them thrown out of their homes, and some are sexually abused by family members who recognize a vulnerability in them.''

She said these young people can be desperate for acceptance and they work with them to know what safety looks like in dating, and how to be aware of potential predators.

Cnossen said up to 40 percent of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBT. She said Arbor Circle has staff at both HQ, the drop-in center for homeless and runaway youth, and the Grand Rapids Pride Center, to connect with youth where they feel most safe.

Additional study findings include:

• LGB students are five times more likely to report illegal drug use than heterosexual students.

• More than one in 10 LBG students reported missing school during the past 30 days due to safety concerns.

• 60 percent of LGB students and 26 percent of heterosexual students report having felt sad and hopeless to the point where he or she stopped participating in routine activities.

• During the past 12 months, more than 40 percent of LBG students have seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent reported having attempted suicide.

Advocates say all of the findings are disturbing, but they see the study as a catalyst to galvanize community support, urge schools to be more intentional, and push state action on public support for statewide anti-discrimination protections.

Cnossen said a community group, concerned about division and the need for Grand Rapids to be more accepting and welcoming of the LBGT community, has been working for a couple years on a plan to garner more public support through real steps toward inclusion. She said the plan, expected this fall, would also look at providing services in a culturally competent and prudent way.

Sue Spahr, principal of Cedar Springs Middle School, said the study emphasizes why schools have to start early talking to young people about appreciating differences. She said they also need to make sure all students feel they can go to any teacher or administrator and get the help and support needed.

"I think the worst thing for a child is to feel isolated and that they have no one they can turn to," said Spahr, who added that for six years they have been very intentional about implementing bullying and other programs.

For example, she said they have had students put on small skits and plays for the student body to help them understand the impact negative words and actions can have, as well as what positive ones can do.

"Because of where they are in their growth and development, younger students are not always able to step back and see the impact of their words and actions," said Sphar, who said students, staff and parents all have to own creating a positive culture in the school building.

"LBGT students have the right to enjoy life and be able to learn at high levels without intimidation or bullying."

Of the 15,600 students surveyed for the CDC anonymously, 6 percent identified as bisexual, 2 percent reported being gay or lesbian, and 3 percent said they were uncertain of their sexuality.

Read the full article here.