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Bullying of Gay/Lesbian Teens: Expert Q&A

Questions Raised by Cyberbullying That May Have Led to Suicide of Rutgers Student
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 1, 2010 -- Rutgers student Tyler Clementi is the fourth teen in three weeks to commit suicide after being bullied for being, or seeming, gay.

Suicide rates and suicidal thoughts are more common among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered teens. Much of this may be due to bullying, as gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens are about twice as likely to report being bullied as heterosexual teens.

The tragic deaths raise a number of questions, which WebMD took to two experts:

  • Monica Michell, MD, former chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, now in private practice.
  • David Fassler, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist affiliated with Otter Creek Associates in Burlington, Vt.  He is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of advocacy and public policy for the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families.

 

What makes harassment and bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) teens different from other sexual harassment/bullying?

Michell:

I am not sure it is different from heterosexual teenagers being harassed about sexual matters. To harass anyone -- particularly a teenager -- about intimate encounters is humiliating. And it is the issue of being humiliated that is so devastating.

What is different about gay and lesbian harassment is that these kids don't always come from an environment where they can be open about their sexuality. For lesbian and gay kids who have not yet come to terms with who they are, and who have not yet come out to their friends and families, to be outed this way is horrific.

Why are LGBT youths more likely than other youths to be harassed or bullied?

Michell:

I think gay boys are most likely to be harassed because heterosexual boys feel more threatened by the fact that all people have bisexual fantasies and tendencies. Heterosexual boys can feel very scared of those impulses within themselves and become very anti-gay. The psychological basis of homophobia is fear of having those feelings oneself.

I suspect the kids who are sort of the opposite of the stereotype of masculinity and femininity experience more harassment and bullying.

Why do people single out LGBT youth for harassment/bullying?

Michell:

I am not sure how much it is about being someone who is gay or lesbian as it is about being someone who is vulnerable. This student from Rutgers seemed shy and reclusive. And such kids are easier to pick on and become more easily targeted. A kid with a thousand friends is not going to be bullied as easily as a kid socially disconnected with his peers.

If an LGBT youth is harassed or bullied, what should he/she do?

Michell:

What happened to the student in New Jersey is an invasion of privacy, and that is illegal. Certainly teenagers should report illegal acts to the authorities.

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