Students targeted for anti-gay harassment are more likely than their peers to use drugs heavily, think about suicide or attempt suicide, a report released Thursday by the Safe Schools Anti-Violence Documentation Project says.
“We are increasingly hearing from heterosexual youth who are being attacked for being assumed to be gay,” said Beth Reis, principal investigator and author of the project’s third annual report, which detailed 28 incidents of anti-gay harassment at Washington state schools.
Among the anecdotes from telephone interviews:
A teenager who announced plans to join the jazz choir got an instant comeback from a classmate at lunch. “Why? Are you some kind of fag?” he asked, and other students laughed.
Second-graders taunted a 7-year-old classmate, saying “Get away, gay boy,” and “Don’t let gay boy touch you.” After this happened every day for several weeks, he told his mother. The teacher responded by telling the children name-calling would not be tolerated, and asking that they write letters of apology. One girl wrote that she was sorry she had not told the bullies to stop. The mother was satisfied with the response but the boy believes he has lost friends.
A high school girl reported that a boyfriend made her watch as four other boys raped a lesbian girl who was her friend. She said the victim’s lip was cut and her clothes were torn.
The incidents - ranging from casual insults to assaults and gang rape - were reported in 1995-96. They were added to 49 anecdotes made public in two previous reports by the coalition of nonprofit groups, government agencies and gay-rights groups.
Interviewers talked by telephone with persons who reported the incidents. In order to assess credibility, the researchers checked for internal consistency and verified facts that were publicly available. An additional 20 stories were discarded because of doubts, the coalition said.
A survey of high school students by the Seattle School District, analyzed in the report, found that of the approximately 7,800 students who answered the question, about 5 percent identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 4 percent said they were not sure of their orientation.
For every gay, lesbian or bisexual youth taunted with insulting words, another four heterosexual students had the same problem.
Thirty-four percent of the sexual-minority students reported being harassed for their sexual orientation. Six percent of heterosexual youth said they, too, had been targets of anti-gay harassment.
“What this means is that everybody is vulnerable,” said Reis, an education consultant for the Seattle-King County Health Department.
Heterosexual students targeted were significantly more likely than their peers to report serious problems, the Seattle survey said. Forty-five percent said they had had property stolen or deliberately damaged at school.
One-third were involved in high-risk or heavy drug use. More than one-third had seriously considered suicide or made a suicide plan in the past year, the survey said, while 20 percent had actually tried suicide.
Among sexual-minority students who were harassed, 45 percent had seriously considered suicide in the past year, 43 percent had made a suicide plan and 20 percent had attempted suicide, the survey said.