Have you ever been put down by someone you thought was a friend, or maybe even a stranger? Have you ever been bullied because of your sexuality?
According to 2010 statistics from the National Youth Association, nine out of 10 LGBTQ+ students have experienced harassment at school. That may have been four years ago, but collegiettes across the country still face problems today because of their sexualities.
But what can we do? We explored the problem of bullying within the LGBTQ+ community deeper by talking to a lesbian collegiette who has survived bullying and Sue Scheff, author, parent advocate and Internet safety advocate.
Surviving bullying can be extremely difficult for LGBTQ+ students, especially considering it’s usually part of the coming-out process, which isn’t always a good experience.
Natasha*, a student from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, says that in high school, she feared being expelled for being a lesbian because of the many anti-gay talks that were given in chapel lessons at her private high school. She recalls getting called into the office of her dean, who asked her about a friend whom teachers suspected was a lesbian.
“I remember sitting in the dean’s office, hearing him talk about how evil and dark she was,” Natasha says. “It wasn’t even the case that she was a lesbian! It was really scary sitting there... and for a minute, it made me question if I was evil and dark because I liked females.”
The bullying and prejudice Natasha faced at her high school forced her to keep her sexuality a secret. At her school, she remembered that tormentors would accuse girls of being lesbians or “being butch” if they didn’t wear makeup, or accuse male students of being gay if they had high-pitched voices.
For Natasha and many other LGBTQ+ students, college was the first step to overcoming the sturggles she had faced in high school, though there were different challenges ahead.
“Being in college was my first step to finding a new normal,” Natasha says.
Natasha remembers coming out to a guy she used to date to keep up appearances, saying he went from being respectful of her to being a bully, suggesting lewd and inappropriate things that sexualized lesbian relationships.
“I remember that he texted all of his coworkers saying that I came out, and I just cried and cried,” she says. “It’s hard to be honest in relationships, which is something I’m overcoming in college, too.”
Natasha discovered new freedoms in college. She found an LGBTQA group on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh called HOPE whose members have been supportive of her. She highly recommends that other collegiettes who are facing similar difficulties about their sexuality seek out campus support, too.
“My close friends and the people I choose to associate with are accepting of me, and I’m a more honest person because of their acceptance,” Natasha says. “The more self-worth and self-confidence I have, the less worried I am about the bullies’ stereotypes and rumors.”
Part of the process of overcoming bullying is overcoming your own personal fears, which Natasha is doing in the college setting. Thankfully, she’s felt more accepted at college than she did in high school.
“Even now, I am careful about who I come out to,” Natasha says. “If I don’t stay careful, I may run the risk of my family finding out, and if they do, I would be kicked out of the house. I’ve been comfortable at Oshkosh, though.”
Everyone overcomes bullying differently. Sometimes there’s no way to completely get over it, but there are ways to get better.
Inspiring change in your campus community may be the first step to making a better world for yourself and the people around you.
Scheff also says bullying usually starts for children when they mirror authority figures, such as their parents, or maybe their older siblings. “Adults need to be in check with their own behavior, to start educating youth on peer cruelty,” she says.
Here are a few tips for how to create a better environment for the LGBTQ+ community on your campus and how to take those crucial steps to becoming bully-free:
1. Listen up
Listen to your friends’ problems and offer your support and encouragement. Whatever situation they’re going through, whether it’s overcoming a rough day at work or a bully in class, it’s important that you listen attentively and earnestly.
2. Live your attitude
Don’t be the girl who says you accept anyone, no matter their differences, and then make mean comments about someone’s behavior or personality later. Mean what you say! Being accepting isn’t that hard if you give it an honest try. Attitude changes don’t happen overnight, sure, but they’ll never happen if you don’t try to make them happen.
If you feel strongly about an issue, do something about it! In this case, we hope it’s advocating against bullying against LGBTQ+ students on your campus. Check out your campus’s LGBTQ+ support group, or hey, maybe even create your own. Make Pride Week or Anti-Bullying Week “a thing” on your campus and get people involved.
Whatever you do, collegiettes, make your attitudes strong and your actions stronger. Speak out against bullying and stand up for the LGBTQ+ community!
* Name has been changed.