'Smear the Queer': Gay Students Tell Their Stories

School psychologists across the country say it's an unfortunate but not an unheard of tactic to stop bullying.

"In my middle school kids are arrested [for bullying] all the time, although I don't necessarily agree with it," said Lisa Persinger, a psychologist at the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona and chairwoman of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Questioning Issues Committee of the National Association of School Psychologists.

Persinger said schools need not discuss sensitive issues like homosexuality to combat bad behavior and slurs. Instead, a better tactic is to pre-emptively discuss what behaviors and words are allowed.

"The schools that do better with this are schools that have schoolwide positive behavior support rather than schools that use only discipline measures when students misbehave," said Persinger.

Greenfield's work across the country supports similar stances; pre-emptively talk about acceptable words and behavior but avoid going too far into the personal lives of children.

"It's about behavior and what's acceptable behavior and what isn't," said Greenfield. "You aren't talking about gender and sexuality unless you're talking about it in a health class."

"This is not actually that difficult of a conversation to have," she said.

Drug Use, Suicide and Pain in Gay and Lesbian Adults

While Greenfield insists that discussing homosexuality in the classroom is easy, Ryan said the opposite is often true when families are faced with the issue.

Ryan and her research team at the Family Acceptance Project have interviewed more than 200 openly gay young adults and their families, from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in California. She found lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to engage in unprotected sex compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Preventing Tragedies at Home

"We've had families where the way that they found out was that the child tried to commit suicide," said Ryan. "What they learned was that the child was so afraid that the positive relationship they had with their parents would be lost that they were so afraid that they would take their own lives."

In a few months, Ryan said her organization will be ready to present studies showing specific behaviors among parents that contribute to better physical and mental health, and those that may unintentionally cause harm.

Ryan said the recommendations from her research could help families regardless of their religious view points or ideas about homosexuality.

"Even parents who are rejecting still spoke with concern about what would happen to their child," said Ryan about the findings in her study. "A very important message for parents and caregivers from our research is to provide a support."

"One of the things that parents can do early on is when a subject comes up in the news, which happens a lot nowadays, to give positive messages or neutral messages," she said.

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