To some, the "F-word" easily rolls off the tongue and is believed that words can't really lead to any real harm. Yet numerous past studies have shown otherwise: Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders who are bullied have higher rates of depression and suicides and have higher dropout rates and are more likely to be truant in school. But mental health and not graduating are not the only things that LGBT bullying can affect.
A new study has found that LGBT bullying is linked to an increase in HIV and STI risk.
By analyzing data from the Family Acceptance Project's young adult survey, researchers found that LGBT young adults who were victimized in school because of their LGBT identity reported much higher health and adjustment problems, while students with low levels of school victimization had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction as young adults. The people surveyed who were bullied also admitted to putting themselves at risk for HIV as well.
This small scale study doesn't implicitly state what exactly about being bullied lends to higher risk for HIV and other STIs. For years, AIDS advocates have been saying that a lifetime of discrimination, bullying, family and societal rejection can affect someone's ability to negotiate condom use and draw healthy boundaries in relationships. Obviously more research needs to be done about this issue, but these initial findings serve as a good start to help create better HIV/AIDS prevention strategies for young LGBT students.
What I need to also point out is that this is our problem as well. Media—mainstream, Black and LGBT—doesn't do the best job at depicting the diversity of the LGBT community. Being LGBT isn't a white thing. There are plenty of gay Black teens who are deeply impacted by bullying, violence and harassment all for just being who they are (or who they are perceived to be).
In 20009, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a study last year about Black, Latino, Asian and Native American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and found that "more than 80 percent of students reported being verbally harassed in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, with African-American and Asian/Pacific Islander students being somewhat less likely than other students of color to report such experiences." Now couple that with the fact that the CDC estimates that Black MSM account for more than 40 percent of all new HIV infections among African-Americans overall, and you can see why.
And while more is at play as to why HIV/AIDS rates are rising among LGBT youth, it can no longer be denied that bullying severely impacts people's lives. It isn't mere child's play like we once thought.
To learn more about the impact of bullying on LGBT students of color, go here (pdf).