Education :: Bullying turns gay teens off education

Gay and lesbian people in New Zealand who come out openly in their teens are more likely to opt out of higher education because of school bullying, says a new study.

Lower educational achievement over the course of their whole lives was the likely long-term impact on teens bullied as a result of coming out as gay or lesbian, says Dr Mark Henrickson, author of the study.

Many respondents shared harrowing personal stories of years at high school, such as a student from an all-girl high school who said: ?The worst thing you can ever be called is a lesbian, and if somebody finds out about you (like what happened to my friend) you become a social pariah.

?People whisper about her wherever she goes, and most of my friends bitch about her behind her back whenever she isn?t around.?

A young male adult respondent said: ?It was bad at school with bullying, and the teachers let it happen.

?When I came out to my family, all except my mother wanted nothing to do with me, which continues today. You have to be strong to be gay.?

Two-thirds of female students and three-quarters of males say they were verbally abused at school because of their sexual identity, while 9 per cent of girls and 18 per cent of boys were physically abused for the same reason.

Meanwhile, other gay and lesbian youth who choose to remain in education appear to become ?overachievers?.

?They may have succeeded because they?ve opted to come out about their sexuality later in life, or they may use academic achievement in order to mask a gay or lesbian identity,? says Dr Henrickson, a senior social work lecturer at the Auckland campus.

His findings are the latest results of two studies from Lavender Islands: Portrait of the Whole Family ? a national strengths-based study of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in New Zealand.

In the survey, which 2269 people responded to, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers deliberately focussed on developing a more general profile of New Zealand?s lesbian and gay sector by asking questions about identity and self-definition, family, immigration, politics, work, income and spending, leisure, community connections, religion and spirituality.

The two studies, one on educational attainment and gay sexual identity and another on bullying and educational attainment, found that gay and lesbian people with higher qualifications tended to come out about their sexuality later in life. The result surprised Dr Henrickson.

?It seems more intuitive that people with higher educational attainment would be more open to new ideas than people with lower levels of education, and that therefore the coming out process would be earlier and easier for higher-educated individuals,? he says.

He said the studies identified a critical need for teachers, principals, school counsellors, coaches and other education and human service professionals to combat bullying and to be supportive of the needs of gay and lesbian teens.

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