How Our Institutions And Families Undermine The LGBTQ+ Identity

LGBTQ identifying individuals have reported higher rates of victimization compared to their heterosexual counterparts. What exactly causes these rates to be so high? Why is it that this disparity exists amongst LGBTQ+ identifying people? While traditional approaches have chalked this up to homophobia, the question remains as to why homophobia is still so rampant. This article argues that a lack of insight into the LGBTQ+ identity as well as the influence of social frameworks contributes to anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes, and that a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ worldview can help solve this issue.

Robinson & Espelage (2012) assert that, while bullying and peer victimization does contribute to LGBTQ+ individuals to report suicidal tendencies at higher rates, this still does not account for the risk disparity that exists comparative to heterosexual individuals. This does not mean that their sexuality contributes to their catharsis, instead environmental factors such as “greater intolerance” and “less support from the family” (Robinson & Espelage, 2012 p.315) can account for the fact that bisexuals and questioning individuals are at a higher risk compared to their counterparts. Often, identifying as bisexual is a transitory stage, where one “may ultimately identify as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’” (Robinson & Espelage, 2012 p.315). Owing to these environmental factors, such individuals are ultimately turned away from claiming an entirely homosexual identity despite the fact that that is label aligns with their sexuality, thereby remaining in a sort of limbo. This tells us that even in today’s society, social perception and behavior towards LGBTQ+ individuals is not equal to their heterosexual counterparts, and that this affects their mental well-being in a negative way.

Payne & Smith, (2013 p.3) assert that, “the dominant understanding of bullying fails to acknowledge heteronormative social systems of power that support acts of bullying targeted at LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming students.” This means that instead of thinking of bullying on its binary, individual level, we have to consider how social frameworks might promote and help sustain such acts. The traditional approach to combat bullying is to promote tolerance and acceptance. This has the end result of children being aware that they are different, and that they must accept these differences. Ultimately, this causes the differences themselves to be framed and viewed as deviant, and undermines the fact that, “the differences at issue, or the identities through which these differences are negotiated, have been socially and historically constituted and are themselves the effect of power and hegemonic norms, or even of certain discourses about race, ethnicity, sexuality, and culture,” (Payne & Smith, 2013 p.19). This means that acceptance and tolerance are policies that ultimately contribute nothing to understanding the condition of LGBTQ+ individuals, nor does it contribute to the normalizing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals as such policies do not result in either understanding or sympathy. This bleeds out into wider society when we consider the fact that these attitudes are carried by these children into adult life and may explain the environmental factors of “grater intolerance” and “less support from the family” (Robinson & Espelage, 2012, p.315), negatively affecting the mental well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Formby (2015) asserts that prejudice and discrimination from teachers within schools can contribute to distress felt by LGBTQ+ individuals. Certain policies might also exist within institutions that can cause LGBTQ individuals to feel left-out such as implementing a policy that forces them to change separately from others. Inappropriate use of pronouns on the part of the teacher and their resultant dismissal when the student promptly challenges on the fact fundamentally undermines and de-legitimizes the LGBTQ+ identity. While this may not indicate malice in the teacher’s part, it does tell us that prejudice from the teacher comes primarily from either a lack of understanding towards the LGBTQ+ identity or from a worldview that considers the LGBTQ+ identity as invalid. This is also seen in the home environment, where parents will disregard their child correcting them when an incorrect pronoun is used. The fact that LGBTQ+ individuals might derive some form of personal identity from their correct gender pronoun; and that an incorrect though inadvertent use of that pronoun would be perceived an attack on their personal identity does not cross the mind of the teacher or the parent (Formby, 2015). Thus, increased awareness and an education on the LGBTQ+ identity might ensure that these inadvertent forms of bullying are prevented.

Preston, (2016) asserts that teachers who teach sex-education in schools normally view their roles as presenting the truth of gender and sexuality to their students. While an effort is made to present the truth by relying on empirical data and biology, the dominant heteronormative narrative on gender on sexuality is implemented despite the teacher’s most sincere efforts to cater to all creeds. This further reinforces the idea that discrimination is not only institutional, but also the fact that cultural ideas often result in the marginalization of individuals wothin these institutions and therefore society, despite the lack of intent on the part of the active agents who inadvertently discriminate (Preston, 2016). Given that most instances of victimization are the result of institutional practices and a lack of understanding, any solution must involve the integration of LGBTQ+ individuals and their epistemology into society. To that end, Gay-Straight Alliances or GSA’s have proven to significantly decrease homophobic victimization (Marx & Kettrey, 2016). In fact, contrary to the traditionally held view against youth activism, “findings demonstrate the promise of a somewhat politically contentious case of youth activism in promoting the safety of an often-marginalized group of adolescents,” (Marx & Kettrey, 2016 n.p). Thus, increased awareness and increased exposure to LGBTQ individuals helps decrease discrimination against them and allows for their healthy development (Marx & Kettrey, 2016).

The influence of institutions in our lives in shaping our perceptions is immense. As shown in this article, we can often harbor attitudes and practices which, in spite of our best efforts end up isolating and marginalizing those that are labelled different. These attitudes bleed into our wider culture, which in turn influence our interactions within institutions and wider society. In the interests of solidarity, we must be mindful of the fact that these differences are only labels, and through proper understanding and empathy do we realize that despite these labels, we are all the same.

References

Marx, R. A., & Kettrey, H. H. (2016). Gay-Straight Alliances are Associated with Lower Levels of School-Based Victimization of LGBTQ+ Youth: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(7), 1269–1282. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0501-7

Preston, M. J. (2016). ‘They’re just not mature right now’: Teachers’ complicated perceptions of gender and anti-queer bullying. Sex Education, 16(1), 22–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2015.1019665

Formby, E. (2015). Limitations of focussing on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic ‘bullying’ to understand and address LGBT young people’s experiences within and beyond school. Sex Education, 15(6), 626–640. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2015.1054024

Robinson, J. P., & Espelage, D. L. (2012). Bullying Explains Only Part of LGBTQ–Heterosexual Risk Disparities: Implications for Policy and Practice. Educational Researcher, 41(8), 309–319. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X12457023

Payne, E., & Smith, M. (2013). LGBTQ Kids, School Safety, and Missing the Big Picture: How the Dominant Bullying Discourse Prevents School Professionals from Thinking about Systemic Marginalization or … Why We Need to Rethink LGBTQ Bullying. QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, 1–36. https://doi.org/10.14321/qed.0001