Homophobic Bullying Increases when LGBTQ Rights are Publicly Debated, Study Finds

A study found that children are bullied for their sexual orientation more when LGBTQ rights are being publicly debated, according to Newsweek.

The study, published in Pediatrics, looked at surveys completed by nearly 5 million Californian students in middle and high schools from 2001 to 2014.

Students were surveyed: “During the past 12 months, how many times on school property were you harassed or bullied because you are gay or lesbian (or someone thought you were)?” The authors looked at the rates students reported before and after the vote on Proposition 8, a statewide ballot that asked voters whether same-sex marriage should be banned.

Voters approved of Proposition 8 was approved in 2008 but was ruled unconstitutional in 2010 by a federal court.

During the 2008/2009 school year – when Proposition 8 was being widely and publicly debated – researchers found that rates of homophobic bullying rose. However, in the years following the vote, these rates decreased.

According to the study authors, the debate surrounding the proposition “promulgated stigma” against LGB people.

“This research provides some of the first empirical evidence that public campaigns that promote stigma may confer risk for bias-based bullying among youth,” the authors wrote.

However, these trends were not seen across all schools. Schools with a gay-straight alliance were less likely to see these increases in homophobic bullying than those that didn’t. Rates of homophobic bullying were below 10 percent in schools with gay-straight alliances; rates climbed to almost 13 percent in the schools without.

Stephen Russel, the senior author of the study and chair of the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at the University of Texas at Austin, commented on the very real applications of the results.

“Policies and campaigns related to Black Lives Matter, bathroom bills, immigration – these can be concerning in how they affect the health and well-being of youth,” he said. “The public health consequences of these very conscientious and media-driven discussions are more important than we knew.”

The data are particularly important as the Equality Act, legislation to federally protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, is being publicly debated across the country.