Is the Current Political Climate Hurting LGBTQ Youth? What Schools and Families Can Do
By Tyler Hatchel, MA (Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student, University of Florida, Espelage Lab)
How is the current sociopolitical climate impacting at-risk LGBTQ youth?
Although I believe that simply seeing or hearing about the diminished rights of diverse and oppressed folk is distressing for LGBTQ youth, Bandura’s seminal work on Social Learning Theory might suggest that the impact is more insidious. This theory posits that new behavior can be learned by simply watching and imitating others1. The likelihood of a new behavior occurring is potentially influenced by observed rewards or punishments (i.e., vicarious reinforcement). It is then plausible that seeing aggression, discrimination, prejudice, and stigma being rewarded with monumental power could shape how all youth in the U.S. behave.
There is well established research showing that aggression in the sense of peer victimization and bullying is deleterious to the mental health of LGBTQ youth33,6,11,12,15,17. Although there are many different ways to frame aggression, Bandura (1973) has demonstrated that seeing aggressive behavior often predicts future aggression. It follows then that the sociopolitical climate in the U. S. could predict more peer victimization directed at diverse youth like LGBTQ students. However, there is not much school administrators and parents can do to easily change a nation’s political climate. However, there are things one can do to change community or school climate.
What can schools do?
Create safe and supportive environments:
Accommodating the needs of LGBTQ youth are profound for improving school climate. School climate is vital when it comes to their well-being. Many studies have demonstrated that accepting and warm climates serve as protective factors whereas less accommodating climates have a negative impact on LGBTQ youth7,9,10,16. Programs and policies play a large role in shaping school climate.
Use teachers and staff to reduce discrimination:
Teachers and staff are essential to creating welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth as well. If students hear prejudice from their teachers or do not observe an appreciation for diversity, then it is reasonable to posit that this would diminish the quality of climate and even predict student discrimination. I trust schools can protect their LGBTQ youth by hiring teachers and staff who are diverse themselves and allies for diverse youth. Watching role models be allies for LGBTQ youth could cultivate a sense of belonging for LGBTQ students. I suspect some schools are not ready to remodel their entire staff. If hiring is not a strategy available, training is another approach. Cultivate an appreciation and understanding of diversity in your teachers. Make it a point to incorporate LGBTQ-specific curriculum in your classes.
Foster school connectedness:
Feeling connected is another critical part of LGBTQ youth well-being4,5. Some research has suggested that peer victimization diminishes belonging which then predicts associated mental health issues like suicidality8. Although belonging and connectedness can be specific to an LGBTQ community, they do not have to be. LGBTQ youth can find belonging in theatre club or marching band if these programs are accepting or even appreciative of diversity. I know I would feel connected to a band or club if the teacher was committed to social justice issues, an ally, and/or identified as LGBTQ.
But what can parents do, you ask?
You can be models for all youth by appreciating diversity in your homes and communities. Furthermore, you can advocate for the inclusion of anti-bullying programs, trans-inclusive policies, and other options like Gay Straight Alliances. You can also push for the inclusion of diverse teachers/staff in your children’s schools. Finally, please be an understanding and proud parent of your LGBTQ children as that is clearly another protective factor for LGBTQ youth13.
Essentials for LGBTQ youth well-being:
Less exposure to peer victimization
Warm and accommodating school climates
A sense of belonging and connectedness
Positive role models who appreciate diversity
LGBTQ youth are an incredibly important and valuable part of our society. Although these youth are clearly resilient, it is their right to be treated as equals by our schools, communities, and families. This is especially true when dire sociopolitical climates are disheartening.
Resources for LGBTQ youth, parents, and schools:
1Bandura, A., (1971). Social learning theory. General Learning Corporation.
2Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.
3Birkett, M., Espelage, D.L., & Koenig, B. (2009). LGB and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 989 – 1000. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9389-1
4Eisenberg, M. E., Neumark‐Sztainer, D., & Perry, C. L. (2003). Peer harassment, school connectedness, and academic achievement. Journal of School Health, 73, 311-316. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2003.tb06588.x
5Eisenberg, M. E., & Resnick, M. D. (2006). Suicidality among gay, lesbian and bisexual youth: The role of protective factors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 662-668. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.04.024
6Espelage, D. L., Merrin, G. J., & Hatchel, T. (2016). Peer Victimization and Dating Violence Among LGBTQ Youth: The Impact of School Violence and Crime on Mental Health Outcomes. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1-18. doi: 10.1177/1541204016680408
7Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L., & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 43(5), 573-589. DOI: 10.1002/pits.20173
8 Hatchel, T., Espelage, D. L., & Huang, Y. (in press). Sexual harassment victimization, school belonging, and depressive symptoms among LGBTQ adolescents: Temporal insights. Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
9Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective school climates and reduced risk for suicide ideation in sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301508
10Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Keyes, K. M. (2013). Inclusive anti-bullying policies and reduced risk of suicide attempts in lesbian and gay youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), S21-S26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.08.010
11 Huebner, D. M., Thoma, B. C., & Neilands, T. B. (2015). School victimization and substance use among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents. Prevention Science, 16(5), 734-743. DOI: 10.1007/s11121-014-0507-x
12Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 national school climate survey. New York, NY: GLSEN.
13Poteat, V. P., Mereish, E. H., DiGiovanni, C. D., & Koenig, B. W. (2011). The effects of general and homophobic victimization on adolescents’ psychosocial and educational concerns: the importance of intersecting identities and parent support. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 597. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025095
14Robinson, J.P., & Espelage, D.L. (2011). Inequities in educational and psychological outcomes between LGBTQ and straight students in middle and high school. Educational Researcher, 40, 315-330. doi: 10.3102/0013189X11422112
15 Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R. M., Card, N. A., & Russell, S. T. (2010). Gender-nonconforming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: school victimization and young adult psychosocial adjustment. Developmental psychology, 46(6), 1580. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0020705
16Ueno, K. (2005). Sexual orientation and psychological distress in adolescence: Examining interpersonal stressors and social support processes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 68, 258-277.
17Ybarra, M. L., Mitchell, K. J., Kosciw, J. G., & Korchmaros, J. D. (2015). Understanding linkages between bullying and suicidal ideation in a national sample of LGB and heterosexual youth in the United States. Prevention Science, 16, 451-462. doi: 10.1007/s11121-014-0510-2
Tyler James Hatchel, MA is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at the University of Florida, Department of Psychology. Tyler graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a BA and MA in psychology. His research interests broadly include developmental psychology, prevention science, aggression, and mental health. He is particularly interested in examining the well-being of at risk and stigmatized youth. More specifically, he has completed a number of studies that explored the various risk and protective factors that shape the relations between peer victimization and poor outcomes for LGBTQ youth. He is also interested in digital media, suicidality, and tele-health. He is currently appointed as a research assistant for Dr. Espelage’s lab which focuses on understanding and preventing bullying, peer aggression, and sexual assault. Tyler has both been the recipient of a number of awards and published a few studies. He has worked with at The Trevor Project, with number of public school administrators, and served as a counselor at the University of Florida. He would like to become appointed as a professor and continue completing translational research that proves beneficial for at risk and stigmatized youth.