Taking the Time to Listen: LGBTQ+ Youth Bullying

Boston’s Pride Festival is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate some of our city’s best qualities: our tolerance, diversity, and protection of LGBTQ+ rights. There are many that are not yet ready to join us at Pride, still too young to find their voice or too vulnerable to celebrate.

Despite Boston’s embrace of progressive values, young people in our city still experience bullying and social exclusion, especially LGBTQ+ youth who are statistically more likely to be targeted. The CDC’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that LGBT students were twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to report having been bullied on school property.* The statistics for transgender and gender-nonconforming students are even more sobering. According to the 2017 National School Climate Survey conducted by by GLSEN, 83.7% of transgender students and 69.9% of gender-nonconforming students were bullied or harassed at schools.^  The same survey found that in Massachusetts, 45% of the students surveyed experienced at least one form of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school in the past year.

The effects of bullying can be devastating, and often feelings of shame and fear of reprisals prevent students from coming forward to report incidents. LGBTQ+ students who experienced high levels of victimization and discrimination had lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression, according to GLSEN. Social media extends the geographic range of cyber-bullying into the home.

Jack Hill, founder of the national White Responsibility Teach-In and head of the Cambridge Friends Middle School, is one who has called for a higher level of response to this bullying crisis, saying “As we look towards Pride, we must also look toward the Protest necessary to bring about justice for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Massachusetts’s 2010 anti-bullying law and its subsequent 2014 amendment set out standards and procedures with regard to reporting bullying incidents, and the Boston Public Schools set up a hotline in 2016 to report and deal with harassment cases. I’m still learning about this, and would love to hear your stories and statistics as I formulate the most practical and effective response to the troubling fact that from 2017–2018, “Boston public schools filed the most number of bullying reports than any other district in the state—178 reports.”+

I would like to see LGBTQ+-inclusive school curricula, with coherent anti-bullying policies that include explicit protections against bullying based on gender/identity expression and/or sexual orientation. I would like to see schools welcoming student-led activism in support of LGBTQ+ rights, as we know that this promotes acceptance and inclusion.

There are other vulnerable young people in our school system facing homelessness, socio-economic hardships, and other challenges, and our schools need adequate funding to provide the support they deserve to all our at-risk students. The recent agreement forged between Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union calls for an additional 23 mental health professionals in BPS and one full-time school nurse in every school; this agreement is a critical step forward.  

We can work together to face these challenges and create the “joyful learning environment” incoming BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius calls for in Boston’s public schools (listen here: https://www.wbur.org/radioboston/2019/05/20/walsh-cassellius-boston-schools). I will personally advocate in the area of anti-bullying and protection of LGBTQ rights in our public schools and will promote transparency. In my year of campaigning as a Boston city council candidate in District 8, I’ve attended community events and taken the time to get to know my constituents and their concerns. There is no better time than now, as we celebrate Pride in Boston, to listen to the issues young people are facing and reflect on how we can create a community of inclusion and respect for our youth and allow our progressive values to shine.

*(33%) and cyberbullied (27.1%) than their heterosexual peers (17.1% and 13.3%, respectively).
^nationally because of gender (www.glsen.org)
+ According to Alexi Cohan’s article in the Boston Herald: https://www.bostonherald.com/2019/01/14/anti-bullying-law-not-enough-to-protect-kids-some-consider-suicide/