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SSWAA Member Speaks Out About Homophobic Harassment and Bullying.

Friday, November 12, 2010


As repugnant as these words are, they are heard every day in the classroom, hallways, cafeterias, and buses of America’s schools. This is not a new phenomenon. Homophobic harassment and bullying has been an issue for many years. What has brought it into the spotlight of national attention this school year has been the rash of suicides of young gay males who just could not bear one more day of name calling, harassment, violence, and public humiliation.   
It is not easy being gay. It is not a choice or a preference; no more that it is to be straight. No one would voluntarily invite the kind of cold hearted bigotry that goes along with being gay, or even being perceived to be gay. It is what it is. If you know one gay person, then you know one gay person. If you know one hundred, then you know one hundred. We are all individuals, unique in being ourselves and cannot be thrown together in one big gay heap. Being gay is only one part of each gay person. We are students, teachers, social workers, artists, entertainers, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters. We are rich and poor. Some of us live in mansions and some live on the streets. Some are HIV positive, some are negative. We are who we are.
As school social workers, we are obligated by the ethics that define our profession, to take the lead in addressing any social ill that alienates any of our students. We must be the change, to be the advocate, and the voice of the GLTBQ students at our schools, and in our lives. Every school social worker must do SOMETHING. Examine yourself to find your own comfort zone in taking some kind of action. I then challenge you to step outside that zone and come up with a plan to address each and every incident of homophobia that you encounter. Change will only occur when homophobic harassment is challenged every single time. How many times in a day have you heard “That’s So Gay” and done nothing?
The Gay Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently completed the 2009 National School Climate Survey of 7,261 middle and high school students. The report indicated that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students in the survey experienced harassment in school in the past 1 ½ years. The same report showed that nearly 34% of the students who reported an incident of school based homophobic harassment felt that their school did nothing about it.
What can school social workers do about it?  Here are some suggestions from Youth Pride Inc.:  
1.      Make no assumption about sexuality.
2.      Have something gay-related visible in your office.
3.      Support, normalize and validate students' feelings about their sexuality.
4.      Do not advise youth to come out to parents, family and friends as they need to come out at their own safe pace.
5.      Guarantee confidentiality with students.
6.      Challenge homophobia.
7.      Combat heterosexism.
8.      Learn about and refer to community organizations.
9.      Encourage school administrators to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination policies for their schools or school systems which include sexual orientation.
10. Provide role models.
SSWAA has recently updated the position paper on GLTBQ youth to include the recent suicides of gay students and can be viewed under the Policy Papers on SSWAA’s website.
For more information and resources, please visit these websites:
Doug Spohn, MSS/ACSW
SSWAA Board Member
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