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  1. 1. Sexual minority youth Social exclusion, absenteeism and sexual minority youth IAN RIVERS assaulted by their peers, with just under half reporting having been harassed (44 per cent) and well over three In this article, on a topic not previously explored in quarters (79 per cent) having been called names because of this journal, Ian Rivers compares two groups of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. lesbian, gay and bisexual adults (mean age, 28 years) who reported having been subjected to anti-lesbian/gay abuse at school. The first group The experiences of lesbian and gay youth at school recalled a history of absenteeism at school while the second group, although experiencing similar levels Hunter and Schaecher (1995) described the American of harassment, reported attending school on a education system as ‘one of the pillars of socialisation in regular basis. The findings suggest an association our culture’ (p. 1058). Yet, they also pointed out that lesbian between the experience of harassment and a history and gay youth have, for many years, been participants in of absenteeism and an ideation of self-harm and an educational system which has done little to tackle the suicide while at school. Rivers proposes that violence, harassment and social exclusion they have anti-harassment initiatives be set up to ensure a safe experienced as a result of their sexual orientation. environment in which sexual minority youth can Furthermore, they have argued that such are the consequences learn. of lesbian and gay ‘enforced invisibility’ (p. 1058) that there is a need for progressive educational programmes to tackle the harassment, violent assault, isolation, suicidal In 1996 the political lobbying group Stonewall published ideation and school failure many young people have the findings from its national survey of crimes against experienced and continue to experience because of lesbians and gay men in the UK (Mason and Palmer their actual or perceived sexual orientation (Friend 1993, 1996). From a sample of 4,200 volunteers recruited Hunter and Schaecher 1987, Rofes 1989, Rofes 1995). In through advertisements in the gay press and various the UK, there has been very little research focusing upon lesbian and gay mailing lists, it was found that 34 per cent the educational experiences of young lesbians and gay of gay and bisexual men and 24 per cent of lesbian and men. Those studies that are available (see below) have bisexual women had been the victim of at least one tended to reinforce Hunter and Schaecher’s view, that assault in the last five years. When the results were broken lesbian and gay youth remain a hidden minority within the down further, the report showed that under-18s were educational system, and as three school principals have particularly at risk from violent assault, with 48 per cent of recently attested in a letter to the editor of The Belfast respondents reporting at least one recent violent attack, Telegraph, there remains a strong sense of outrage at the whereas the overall figure for those reporting such assault attempts of voluntary agencies and health and education was 32 per cent. authorities to promote the discussion of homosexuality in schools: Mason and Palmer (1996) found that 40 per cent of all violent attacks on under-18s took place at school, with 50 All who accept the authority of the Bible acknowledge per cent of those being perpetrated by same- or similar-aged homosexuality to be not only a deviant form of behaviour peers. Although this group was understandably small but utterly depraved … While we are opposed to all (approximately 2 per cent of the total sample), due to the types of bullying, it must be considered ironic that it is fact that few under-18s would have access to lesbian and the gays who are attempting to bully the respectable gay literature, the survey results did show that approximately people of this country into subjecting their children to one quarter (24 per cent) of those young lesbians and gay instruction on sodomy. men who completed questionnaires had been physically (quoted in Rivers 1997, p. 45) Support for Learning Vol. 15 No. 1 (2000) 13 © NASEN 2000.
  2. 2. One of the first studies to specifically address the experiences directed against them. Where physical assaults had taken place, of lesbian and gay youth in secondary school was conducted Pilkington and D’Augelli found that white students were far in the United Kingdom by the London Gay Teenage Group. more likely to be physically assaulted (27 per cent) than This study had four main objectives: those from other cultural groups (19 per cent), and such experiences had resulted in a number of young lesbians, gay 1 to offer an insight into the pressures lesbian and gay men and bisexual men and women attempting to hide their teenagers faced in schools around the capital; sexual orientation from their peer group. Overall, the authors 2 to identify the ways in which they were discriminated found that 43 per cent of the young men and 54 per cent of the against in the classroom; young women surveyed has lost at least one friend as a result 3 to demonstrate the positive contribution they could make of their actual or perceived sexual orientation while a further to the school environment; and 36 per cent and 27 per cent respectively feared they would lose 4 to offer recommendations on ways to challenge the their friends if they were ‘open’ about their sexual orientation. traditionally held negative connotations of homosexuality prevalent within society. As Pilkington and D’Augelli (1995) indicated in their study, the fear of being socially isolated from a peer group is one of Overall, 416 young lesbians and gay men completed the strongest reasons why young lesbians, gay men and bisexual detailed questionnaires about their experiences of intolerance men and women choose to remain hidden. Those young men at school which were published in three separate reports and women who do decide to disclose their sexual orientation (Trenchard 1984, Trenchard and Warren 1984, Warren to others can face a great deal of hostility, and as Fricke (1981) 1984). The results from the survey showed that 39 per cent has pointed out, such hostility is not necessarily expressed of participants (164) had been bullied at school or had in the form of physical assault, verbal abuse or social isolation: faced pressure to conform because of their gender-atypical behaviour. Of the 154 participants who had specified the One day while sitting in a science class, I happened to nature of their experiences, 21 per cent reported having glance around the room and detect a fellow class-mate been called names or otherwise verbally abused, 13 per glaring at me. I overlooked it at first, but ten minutes cent said they had been teased, 12 per cent said they had later I noticed he was still staring. His name was Bill been physically assaulted, a further 7 per cent recalled Quillar. He must have been a quiet student because I had being isolated by their peers, and another 7 per cent said hardly ever taken notice of him before. I never saw him that they had felt pressured to change their behaviour. fraternizing with anyone else. He was a small student, not intimidating in size, but the look in his eyes was In the United States, comparable studies of the experiences petrifying. He stared at me with an uninterrupted gaze of young lesbians and gay men in the educational system that could melt steel. It was a look of complete disgust. have shown that, for many, anti-lesbian/gay abuse has been I ignored him. but the next day he was staring again. and a part of their school experience from a very young age the next … and the next … and the next. indeed. For example, in their study of anti-lesbian/gay (pp. 28–9) abuse in schools across the state of Pennsylvania, Gross, Aurand and Adessa (1988) found that 50 per cent of the gay Although much of the research on the victimisation of men who were surveyed and 12 per cent of the lesbians had lesbian, gay and bisexual youth has focused specifically experienced some form of victimisation in junior high school upon that perpetrated by peers, there is also evidence of (12–14 years), rising to 59 per cent for gay men and 21 per teachers both actively and passively supporting negative cent for lesbians in high school (14–18 years). According attitudes towards homosexuality, and, in some cases, to Berrill (1992), from the evidence collected by various participating in acts of physical, verbal and emotional state and national task forces and coalitions at the time, aggression towards young people from sexual minority estimates of the prevalence of school-based victimisation groups. Indeed, Pilkington and D’Augelli (1995) found that for lesbian and gay youth resident in the US ranged from 7 per cent of those who participated in their study had been 33 per cent (Aurand, Adessa and Bush 1985) to 49 per cent hurt by a teacher, and more particularly that young women (Gross, Aurand and Adessa 1988). had experienced more abuse than young men (11 per cent and 7 per cent respectively). They also found that students More recently, Pilkington and D’Augelli (1995) have who were from cultural minority groups were also more reported that, of the 194 lesbian, gay and bisexual youth likely to report abusive behaviour by teachers than white they surveyed (aged between 15 and 21 years), 30 per cent students (10 per cent and 6 per cent respectively). In the of gay and bisexual young men and 35 per cent of lesbian UK, both Warren (1984) and Mac an Ghaill (1994) have and bisexual young women said they had experienced some found that although teachers have not actively engaged in form of harassment or verbal abuse in school because of any form of physical, verbal or emotional abuse, they have their sexual orientation. In terms of physical assault, 22 per been less than supportive when approached for help: cent of young men and 29 per cent of young women reported having been hurt by a peer; however, a further 28 per cent The Head of Sixth Form, who warned that I might get of young men and 19 per cent of young women indicated expelled, enquired if I had been dropped on my head as that their degree of openness about their sexual orientation a baby. was influenced by the fear of physical violence being (Warren 1984, p. 17) 14 Support for Learning Vol. 15 No. 1 (2000) © NASEN 2000.
  3. 3. I went to a teacher and told him that I thought I might be Results gay. He said, no I mustn’t think like that, it was just a phase all boys went through. Overall, 116 participants (89 men and 21 women) completed (Mac and Ghaill 1994, p. 168) questions relating to truancy or feigning illness at school (the remaining three were excluded due to missing data). It is interesting to note, however, that very little research Seventy-two per cent indicated that they had either played has been conducted relating to the exclusion of young truant or feigned illness to avoid anti-lesbian/gay abuse lesbian and gay men from statutory education. In particular, when they were at school. However, they were not found to there has been little consideration given to issues of truancy have experienced any more anti-lesbian/gay abuse than among this group of vulnerable young people, although those who had not feigned illness or played truant, nor did anecdotal evidence suggests that truancy may be a major their recollections of such behaviour suggest that they had issue among lesbian and gay youth. endured such behaviour for a greater duration (mean, 5 years). Method The initial analysis of the data gathered from each of the two groups focused upon the nature and correlates of the The present study represents one aspect of a three-year anti-lesbian/gay discrimination they face. Three particular study consisting of three related empirical investigations: an questions were addressed: exploration of the nature of 190 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered adults’ experiences of anti-lesbian/gay abuse 1 Were those who reported school absenteeism exposed to at school; a study of psychosocial correlates and long-term more violent forms of harassment than their peers? implications of such behaviour for a subsample of 119 2 Were those who reported school absenteeism less well participants; and, finally, a small number of interviews. supported by friends, teachers or someone at home than As data from the exploratory study of anti-lesbian/gay those who also experienced victimisation but did not abuse at school were primarily retrospective, the reliability play truant? of participants’ memories was also assessed with a 3 Were there any gender differences in the rate of absenteeism subsample of 60 participants who completed the initial reported by participants? questionnaire at a 12- to 14-month interval (see Rivers 1999a, Rivers 1999b). The nature of anti-lesbian/gay abuse and its relationship to To gain as wide a distribution of participants within the absenteeism population as possible, a multi-method sampling strategy was used which incorporated a number of media advertisements, The data in table 1 depict participants’ reports relating to and liaison with various community organisations and help the nature of anti-lesbian/gay abuse they experienced at lines in the United Kingdom. Inclusion in the study school. Significant associations were found between required participants to provide written accounts of their absenteeism at school and types of anti-lesbian/gay abuse. experiences of anti-lesbian/gay abuse at school as well as Significantly more absentees reported being frightened by completing the survey instrument (an adapted version of the look or stare of another, being ridiculed in front of others, that used by Olweus in his national survey of harassment at and having belongings stolen. All other comparisons were school in Norway; see Olweus 1991). Those who reported not found to be significant. victimisation for reasons other than their actual or perceived sexual orientation were not included in the data set. Table 1 Absenteeism and anti-lesbian/gay abuse Frequency (%) Participants in the present study were those who agreed to participate further following the initial survey of anti-lesbian/gay Not absent Significance Absent abuse at school, and who were sent a second survey instrument (n = 33) (n = 83) which included a number of standardised measures covering I was called names 72 (87) 25 (76) ns adolescence, experiences of abuse at work, relationship status and quality, susceptibility to depression and anxiety, I was hit or kicked 54 (65) 17 (52) ns self-perception and image and post-traumatic stress disorder I was frightened when a particular (see Rivers 1999b). This instrument also included a brief 59 (71) 15 (46) .01 person looked in my direction questionnaire relating to recollections of avoiding school No one would speak to me 30 (36) 6 (18) ns (either through truancy or feigning illness) and teenage friendships. Data were collected from 92 gay and bisexual Rumours were spread about me 60 (73) 19 (58) ns men and 27 lesbian and bisexual women with a mean age I was ridiculed in front of others 73 (88) 23 (70) .03 of 28 years. In terms of ethnicity, 116 were white I was sexually assaulted 6 (7) 4 (12) ns European, two were Asian or South East Asian and one was African-Caribbean. Eighty-four per cent had attended They took my belongings 40 (48) 9 (27) .05 state schools and 16 per cent had attended private or public Other 15 (18) 9 (27) ns school. Support for Learning Vol. 15 No. 1 (2000) 15 © NASEN 2000.
  4. 4. Friendships and social support As table 3 demonstrates, while no significant differences were found between the two groups in terms of the mean In terms of friendships and social support, absentees were number of CSE/GCE O-level/GCSE passes that participants not found to report significantly fewer friendships at school achieved at school at the age of 16 years, GCE A-level that non-absentees, with members of both groups reporting passes were significantly higher among those who did not having two or three close friends at school (47 per cent and report a history of absenteeism at school, suggesting that 55 per cent respectively). However, substantially more fewer absentees remain at school after the age of 16 years. absentees reported regularly spending lunch- and break-times alone in the school yard than non-absentees (75 per cent Table 3 School qualifications: Mean number of ‘Pass’ and 57 per cent respectively). In terms of seeking support grades reported by groups from teachers or someone at home, participants from both Absent Not absent Significance groups indicated that they were uncomfortable about (n = 83) (n = 33) disclosing the reasons underlying their harassment at school. Fifty-two per cent of absentees and non-absentees CSE/GCE O level/GCSE Combined 6 6 ns indicated that they never sought the support of a teacher when they experienced anti-lesbian/gay abuse at school. GCE A level 0 2 .01 Slightly more non-absentees than absentees (61 per cent and 55 per cent respectively) said that they had also been reticent about approaching someone at home for help. Table 4 illustrates the rates of contemplated, single and multiple attempts at self-harming behaviour and suicidal ideation for participants in each group when they were at school. It Gender-wise comparison of absenteeism shows that significantly more absentees contemplated self-harm or suicide as a result of anti-lesbian/gay abuse in Table 2 depicts the number playing truant or feigning illness, schools than non-absentees. While very few participants in together with the relative frequencies of their truanting in either group said that they had attempted self-harm or to secondary school. As the data in table 2 indicate, feigning take their own lives on a single occasion, substantially illness and truancy were relatively frequent among participants. more absentees (36 per cent) indicated that they had No significant associations were found according to gender engaged in multiple attempts or episodes of self-harm than and the frequency of school absence for either feigning non-absentees (15 per cent). illness or general truancy (missing classes), although the numbers suggest that, proportionally, slightly more men Table 4 Suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviour feigned illness to avoid school (once a week or several times according to absenteeism a week) than women, who were more likely to miss classes. Frequency (%) Table 2 Frequency and nature of school absence for lesbian and gay participants Absent Not absent Significance (n = 83) (n = 33) Type Frequency Contemplated 55 (66) 14 (42) .05 Once a More than Once/twice Sometimes Single attempt 6 (7) 2 (6) ns week twice a week Feigned illness Multiple attempts 30 (36) 5 (15) ns • Men 10 21 10 6 • Women 2 4 5 1 Playing truant • Men 3 11 10 9 Discussion • Women 2 4 5 4 In this study, 72 per cent of participants indicated that NB: Figures exceed 83 as participants could indicate more than one response they had either feigned illness or played truant to escape anti-lesbian/gay abuse at school. These results indicate that Long-term ramifications of absenteeism school was a solitary experience for many participants, with little social interaction or involvement in recreational To assess the potential long-term ramifications of school group activities during lunch- and break-times. Absenteeism absenteeism as a result of anti-lesbian/gay abuse, absentees’ was found to be associated significantly with three particular school achievement, in terms of the number of academic forms of harassment, psychological intimidation (being qualifications achieved at ages 16 and 18 years, was frightened by a person’s look or stare), being ridiculed compared with that of non-absentees, and also their publicly by peers, and having personal belongings stolen, reported levels of self-harming behaviour, suicidal ideation and suggests that the victimisation absentees faced was, (contemplated and attempted) and parasuicidal behaviour more likely than not, unremitting, taking place both within at school. the school building as well as outside. Furthermore, the link 16 Support for Learning Vol. 15 No. 1 (2000) © NASEN 2000.
  5. 5. between absenteeism and theft of personal belongings is population. (This argument is further reinforced by the highly significant in that participants may have been forced number of absentees who reported engaging in multiple to miss classes or feign illness in order to avoid admitting self-harming behaviours when compared to non-absentees: to the loss of books, sports equipment or even homework. a ratio of 2 to 1.) Undoubtedly, such experiences were exacerbated by the While there was little evidence to suggest that anti-gay/lesbian fact that very few participants reported seeking support abuse had a differential impact upon the academic performance from a teacher when they experienced anti-lesbian/gay of absentees and non-absentees at age 16, it was found that abuse at school. It is suggested that where the bullying was substantially more non-absentees successfully completed a related to an individual’s sexual orientation, significantly course of study at A level than absentees. Although a causal fewer young lesbians and gay men will be willing to tell a connection is difficult to make at the juncture, this may be teacher. Indeed, given that just over one quarter of all 190 one area for further research; however, it does suggest that, in participants in the survey of anti-lesbian/gay abuse at the long term, those pupils who have a record of absenteeism school (Rivers 1999c) also recalled being bullied by a are likely to leave school earlier and with fewer qualifications teacher because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, than their peers. approaching a member of staff for help may have been seen as an unquantifiable risk, especially in schools where sex or Although this study was retrospective, it has a number of religious education presented homosexuality as being implications for teachers, educational psychologists and deviant (Warren 1984), or, as previously mentioned, where social workers today. It suggests that absenteeism is a teachers did not actively sanction homonegative language common phenomenon among sexual minority youth, and it or abuse. is one which has yet to be tackled effectively. Within schools, a reduction in absenteeism can only be brought In addition to the above, while absentees and non-absentees about by providing young people with a safe environment indicated that they did have two or three good friends when in which to learn. This requires teachers and those they were at school, it would be fair to say that peers would responsible for the pastoral care of young people to foster have faced a great deal of pressure not to intervene when an ethos of care and co-operation, ensuring that all pupils, participants were being harassed and this may explain why regardless of their differences, have equality of opportunity the victimisation continued over a period averaging five in education. For educational psychologists and social years. Although the data suggest that participants were not workers, issues of poor academic performance and suicidal as estranged from their peers as those young lesbians, gay ideation highlight the need for the proactive involvement of men and bisexual men and women portrayed in other those professionals who work in conjunction with schools studies (Hunter 1990, Pilkington and D’Augelli 1995, in setting up anti-harassment initiatives. It is only through Warren 1984), it seems very likely that this was the result such partnerships that sexual minority pupils can be afforded of the fact that the majority were unlikely to have disclosed effective support and guidance, ensuring their personal their sexual orientation to others at school. Indeed, it is safety, academic development and mental health. plausible to assume that the number of peers who were willing to befriend participants would have been negatively affected had participants’ sexual orientation become a References matter of fact rather than one of speculation. AURAND, S. K., ADESSA, R. and BUSH, C. (1985) Violence and Discrimination against Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay People. Participants were also found to be reticent about seeking Unpublished report: Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force. support from a person at home, and this again suggests that BERRILL, K. T. (1992) Anti-gay violence and victimization in the United they received little support when they were being victimised States: An overview. In G. M. Herek and K. T. Berrill (eds), Hate and kept their experiences very much to themselves. Crimes: Confronting violence against lesbians and gay men. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Although Pilkington and D’Augelli (1995) found that FRICKE, A. (1981) Confessions of a Rock Lobster. Boston, MA: Alyson. some of their participants who confided in family members FRIEND, R. A. (1993) Choices, not closets: Heterosexism and homophobia experienced a great deal of verbal and physical abuse in schools. In L. Weiss and M. Fine (eds), Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, within the home, many reported that members of the race, and gender in United States schools. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. GROSS, L., AURAND, S. and ADESSA, R. (1988) Violence and family had accepted their sexual orientation although, as Discrimination against Lesbian and Gay People in Philadelphia and the authors point out, this did not necessarily equate with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Unpublished report: Philadelphia being supportive. Lesbian and Gay Task Force. HUNTER, J. (1990) Violence against lesbian and gay male youths. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5, 295–300. One of the most significant results to emerge from this study HUNTER, J. and SCHAECHER, R. (1987) Stresses of lesbian and gay is undoubtedly the number of participants (absentees and adolescents in schools. Social Work in Education, 9, 180–90. non-absentees) who contemplated or attempted self-destructive HUNTER, J. and SCHAECHER, R. (1995) Gay and lesbian adolescents. behaviours (self-harm/suicide) as a result of anti-lesbian/gay In the National Association of Social Workers (eds), Encyclopedia of Social Work (19th edn). Washington, DC: NASW Press. abuse at school. It is clear from the analysis presented in MAC AN GHAILL, M. (1994) The Making of Men: Masculinities, table 4 that more absentees contemplated self-harming sexualities and schooling. Buckingham: Open University Press. behaviour or suicide than non-absentees, suggesting that MASON, A. and PALMER, A. (1996) Queer Bashing: A national survey they represent a particularly vulnerable group within this of hate crimes against lesbians and gay men. London: Stonewall. 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  6. 6. OLWEUS, D. (1991) Bully/victim problems among schoolchildren: Basic ROFES, E. (1989) Opening up the classroom closet: Responding to the facts and effects of a school based intervention program. In D. Pepler educational needs of gay and lesbian youth. Harvard Educational and K. H. Rubin (eds), The Development and Treatment of Childhood Review, 59, 444–53. Aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. ROFES, E. (1995) Making our schools safe for sissies. In G. Unks (ed.), PILKINGTON, N. W. and D’AUGELLI, A. R. (1995) Victimization of The Gay Teen: Educational practice and theory for lesbian, gay, and lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in community settings. Journal of bisexual adolescents. London: Routledge. Community Psychology, 23, 33–56. TRENCHARD, L. (1984) Talking about Young Lesbians. London: RIVERS, I. (1997) Violence against lesbian and gay youth and its impact. London Gay Teenage Group. In M. Schneider (ed.), Pride and Prejudice: Working with lesbian, gay TRENCHARD, L. and WARREN, H. (1984) Something to Tell You. and bisexual youth. Toronto: Central Toronto Youth Services. London: London Gay Teenage Group. RIVERS, I. (1999a) Peer victimisation and life-span development: WARREN, H. (1984) Talking about School. London: London Gay Psycho-social correlates of early exposure to homonegativism in Teenage Group. school. Paper presented at the Inaugural European Conference ‘Gay and Lesbian Identities: Psychologists working with young people, their families and schools’, University College London, 29–30 March. Correspondence RIVERS, I. (1999b) Homonegativism at school and its impact across the Ian Rivers lifespan. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association’s National Convention (Division 44: Society for the Psychological School of Sports Science and Psychology Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues), Boston, MA, 20–24 August. College of Ripon and York St John RIVERS, I. (1999c) The psycho-social correlates and long-term implications Lord Mayor’s Walk of bullying at school for lesbians, gay men and bisexual men and women. York YO31 7EX PhD thesis, University of Surrey: Roehampton Institute London. 18 Support for Learning Vol. 15 No. 1 (2000) © NASEN 2000.