Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)
Methods: Nine key informants (4 male, 4 female, 1 transgender) were recruited using purposive sampling to identify individuals with expertise on LGBT youth and representing diverse roles and settings: secondary school and university-based social workers, lawyers, youth peer advocates and social service providers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted. All interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using narrative thematic analysis with N*Vivo qualitative software. Interviews were conducted and analyzed in a recursive process, and informants were asked to comment on emerging themes. Member checking among community stakeholders and peer debriefing were used to enhance the trustworthiness of the findings.
Results: Overall, respondents perceived that LGBT bullying was pervasive and occurred in multiple contexts: schools, sporting events, families, places of worship, malls, youth shelters, the media, cyberspace and within the LGBT community. Five forms of bullying emerged: direct, indirect, institutional, conversion and cyber-bullying. Risk (e.g., intersections with other forms of discrimination based on ethnicity or immigration status) and protective (e.g., supportive parents) factors, as well as “run away” (from abusive situations) “turtle” (hoping not to be noticed) and “push-back” (assertive) responses were identified. Obstacles to addressing bullying of LGBT youth included denial that LGBT youth exist, a generic bullying discourse that fails to address sexual orientation, and youths' fears of reprisal amidst lack of support from school administrations and parents.
Implications for Practice: Forms of bullying experienced by LGBT youth share important similarities with traditional bullying (i.e., indirect and direct). However, forms of bullying that may be distinct for LGBT youth include institutional (e.g., heterosexist policies) and conversion (based on a discourse of changing to heterosexuality) bullying, and complicity of the media (e.g., LGBT stereotypes). Strategies to address bullying of LGBT youth include interruption of homophobic acts by educators and adults; accessible LGBT-affirmative support in schools, shelters and other institutional contexts; training for educators and social service staff; funding for LGBT youth programming; queer-positive spaces of worship; support for youth initiatives within LGBT communities; and greater attention in social work to LGBT issues. Silence on the part of social workers, educators and other professionals tends to devalue the problem of LGBT peer victimization, leading to further stigmatization and disenfranchisement of vulnerable youth.