What Are The Effects Of Homophobia In Schools?
When I was about fifteen, I drew a heart in a notebook I kept on my desk in my bedroom and, within the heart, wrote ‘ I love…’
followed by the name of a boy in my year at school (complete with drawing of arrow piercing the heart, and, for good measure, a few dollops of blood seeping from the wound – yes, I know!)
Of course, I always kept the notebook shut and in a drawer, to keep it safe from prying eyes (as I naively believed at the time), concealed by other books, innocuous books placed on top of it.
Some weeks later, I arrived home from school (still never having even
spoken to the boy – I was mysteriously struck dumb whenever in his presence), and, as was my habit, beat a hasty retreat to the solitude of my bedroom (to avoid having to interact with my stepmother who despised me).
Imagine my horror when I saw on my bed the notebook which I always so carefully kept concealed! And worse, oh, so much worse, open at the ‘incriminating’ page.
This was, of course, my stepmother’s handiwork (nobody else had been in the house all day) calculated to cause me maximum shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Well, It worked (and then some).
To make the matter even more sinister and insidious, she never mentioned it – nor, of course, did I. (Preferring, instead, to skulk around the house looking sheepish).
Her communication of the hatred she felt for me, epitomized by this both shameful, and shaming, incident, continued in its usual vein – tacitly, implicitly and by insinuation – making it impossible for me, as a callow young teenager, directly to identify or effectively defend myself against.
Indeed, if I attempted to, I would be accused of paranoia (this is a well known psychological technique known as gaslighting which undermines the victim’s sense of reality and can, when chronically sustained, eventually induce psychosis).
As teenagers we long to be accepted as part of the group, and, whilst things are much better than they were three decades ago when I myself was a teenager, teenagers today still, sadly, experience homophobia.
Needless to say, this discrimination, leading to exclusion from the group, can be very traumatic, particularly as being singled out due to something as sensitive as one’s sexuality can be especially devastating (teenagers are, after all , at a stage in their lives when they are especially self-conscious and in need of acceptance).
Homophobic Bullying Leading To Mental Suffering :
A recent study carried out by Benigui found that young people who experience homophobia, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying and verbal attacks, have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol flowing in their blood streams and are at increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.
And, most concerningly, they are fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than the average person their age.
Internalization Of Anti-Gay Attitudes :
It is likely that one of the main reasons for these findings is the fact that these victimized young people internalize the negative views others express towards them. This can result in the young person becoming what is technically known as an ego-dystonic homosexual (i.e. his/her homosexuality causes him/her mental distress).
However, the study also found that the young person could develop resilience against the negative effects of homophobia if :
– s/he had good emotional support from friends
– good emotional support from family
The main conclusion drawn from the study was that much work still needs to be done to increase acceptance of, and respect for, diversity in the home, at schools and in the community in general, notwithstanding the significant advances made over recent decades.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).