Alliant International University (AIU) and Rockway Institute announced in an Oct. 3 press release the findings of a research study conducted by V. Paul Poteat and Dorothy L. Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The study, “Predicting Psychosocial Consequences of Homophobic Victimization in Middle School Students,” found that anti-gay name-calling significantly impacts not only gay students, but heterosexual students too. Also known as verbal bullying, such name-calling results in higher levels of anxiety, depression and personal distress, as well as a lowered sense of belonging.
Dr. Robert-Jay Green is the executive director of the Rockway Institute at AIU. He said that the results of this study “are another indication that verbal bullying in schools should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, anti-gay name-calling is often viewed by adults as part of growing up and is tolerated by school officials, but this study finds the behavior is damaging to all students.”
Children’s Services in Edmonton, Alberta, says most bullying behavior occurs in junior and senior high school. Verbal bullying is the easiest kind of bullying to inflict because it is quick, to the point and can occur in the least amount of time. Further, its effects are often more devastating in some ways than physical bullying because there are no visible scars.
The study involved 143 seventh graders. The researchers looked at students who were subjected to anti-gay slurs over a one-week period and asked the students to report their level of anxiety, depression, school belonging, and social withdrawal. These students were surveyed again the following year, when in eighth grade. This time, they were also asked to report the frequency with which they were subjected to anti-gay name-calling by other students. Although the sexual orientation of the students was not known, it was assumed that the majority of the participants were heterosexual.
The study found that there were differences between males and females. For males, being the target of anti-gay epithets was significantly linked to anxiety, depression, personal distress, and a lower sense of school belonging. For females, being targeted in this manner was linked to higher levels of social withdrawal.
The researchers concluded that, regardless of whether the target was male or female, “being the victim of homophobic name-calling is a serious concern and significantly predicts several negative psychosocial outcomes.”
As a result of this study, the researchers said name-calling is not harmless banter, and teachers and school administrators should intervene when it occurs. Further, schools should have policies in place that specifically address bullying of all kinds, and “school counselors should be open to discussing antigay bullying and victimization when counseling and working with students who are victimized by their peers…”
In conclusion, the researchers said that “existing research has underscored the traumatizing effects of homophobic victimization for gay and lesbian students, and this investigation suggests that homophobic victimization can also be detrimental to heterosexual students, further underscoring the relevancy of this issue for teachers, administrators, and school counselors.”
Press release, “Anti-gay Slurs May be Damaging to Heterosexual Students Too;” http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/533980/
Children’s Services; http://www.edmontonandareacfsa.gov.ab.ca/teens/page.cfm?pg=Bullying