Homophobic bullying is unfriendly, intimidating, humiliating, or otherwise harassing behavior directed at an individual who is or alleged to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT). It may be physical, verbal, or emotional in nature. Homophobic bullying can be traumatizing, causing the bullied individual to avoid work or school, feel isolated, become depressed, or even commit suicide. While this kind of bullying can occur anywhere, it is especially problematic in middle and high schools. Victims of homophobic bullying should seek the support of a trusted relative, friend, teacher, or one of the many GLBT support groups in existence.
There are a great many possible forms of homophobic bullying. Often, it takes a physical form, such as pushing, tripping, or striking the bullied individual, or defacing his property. In many cases, the bullying is verbal, including practices like spreading rumors and name-calling. It may also be emotional in nature, centering on such behaviors as excluding the bullied individual from a social group or refusing to work with him on a project.
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The motivations behind homophobic bullying can vary widely. A bully may have been raised in a family or religious environment which condemned GLBT individuals, and believe he is merely acting in accordance with what he has been taught. As is the case with many instances of bullying, homophobic bullies often suffer from insecurity, and attempt to demonstrate that they belong to a group by highlighting others’ differences.
Victims of homophobic bullying can be severely traumatized by their experiences. They may avoid work or school due to emotional stress and fear for their physical safety. Additionally, they may begin to suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, and depression. In extreme cases, they may even contemplate or commit suicide.
While this type of bullying can happen anywhere, it is especially problematic when it occurs among middle and high school students. It is generally acknowledged that the teenage years are an emotionally difficult time during which one’s individuality begins to emerge. Bullying of any kind during this period can cause long-term damage to one’s confidence. A 2009 study of more than 7,000 US teens by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that more than 80 percent of GLBT students had felt harassed at school in the previous year. This dramatic harassment rate seems to put GLBT teens at an especially high risk for lingering self-esteem issues.
Those being victimized by homophobic bullying should seek support to prevent feelings of isolation and unhappiness. They may wish to speak to a trusted relative, friend, counselor, teacher, or work colleague. Individuals who feel they cannot confide in those around them can find help from the many community, online, and telephone support groups.