The following article was published in the Houston Chronicle on Monday, February 4, 2013.
CHICAGO - It really does get better for gay and bisexual teens when it comes to being bullied, although young gay men have it worse than their lesbian peers, according to the first long-term scientific evidence on how the problem changes over time.
The seven-year study involved more than 4,000 teens in England who were questioned yearly through 2010, until they were 19 and 20 years old. At the start, just over half of the 187 gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had been bullied; by 2010 that dropped to 9 percent of gay and bisexual boys and 6 percent of lesbian and bisexual girls. The researchers said the same results likely would be found in the United States.
In both countries, a "sea change" in cultural acceptance of gays and growing intolerance for bullying occurred during the study years, which partly explains the results, said study co-author Ian Rivers, a psychologist and professor of human development at BruneI University in London. That includes a government mandate in England that schools work to prevent bullying, and changes in the U.S. permitting same-sex marriage in several states.
In 2010, syndicated columnist Dan Savage launched the "It Gets Better" video project to encourage bullied gay teens. It was prompted by widely publicized suicides of young gays and includes videos from politicians and celebrities.
"Bullying tends to decline with age regardless of sexual orientation and gender," and the study confirms that, said co-author Joseph Robinson, a researcher and assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. "In absolute terms, this would suggest that yes, it gets better." The study appears online ... in the journal Pediatrics.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said the results mirror surveys by her anti-bullying advocacy group that show bullying is more common in U.S. middle schools than in high schools.
But the researchers said their results show the situation is more nuanced for young gay men.
In the first years of the study, gay boys and girls were almost twice as likely to be bullied as their straight peers. By the last year, bullying dropped overall and was at about the same level for lesbians and straight girls. But the difference between men got worse by ages 19 and 20, with gay young men almost four times more likely than their straight peers to be bullied.
The mixed results for young gay men may reflect the fact that masculine tendencies in girls and women are more culturally acceptable than femininity in boys and men, Robinson said.
Savage, not involved in the study, agreed.
"A lot of the disgust that people feel when you bring up homosexuality ... centers around gay male sexuality," Savage said.
I am happy to say that my own personal experience with my gay friends bears out the finding of this recent study, thinks have gotten better though we still have a ways to go.
As I have mentioned many times, one of my best friends is one of my gay friends, Mike. I introduced Mike, who is not from Texas, to another gay friend who is from Texas about ten years ago. Before I knew it, they had fallen in love. Mike moved to Texas, and they are now partnered and doing well.
When Mike moved to Texas, I felt I had to warn him that Texas remains a conservative state and he and his partner needed to keep that in mind. Some Texans, I told him, could take any display of affection between two guys as an invitation to fight. "Keep a low profile," I warned him.
At the parade, the Houston Fire Department had a float from which they were throwing Mardi Gras type beads to the crowd. Innocently enough, Mike's partner assumed since the fire fighters were in the parade, they were gay friendly. In reality, they had probably been ordered by their chief to man the float to promote community relations. Mike's partner hollered at one of the fire fighters to throw him some beads. Instead of throwing them in the usual manner, he rolled them up in a ball and flung them as hard as he could, yelling, "Here you go faggot!"
That was a mistake on his part. Before the fire fighter knew what was happening, Mike had hauled him off the float and was beating the crap out of him. Police quickly broke up the fight; luckily, before Mike hurt him too badly. Now, everyone knows there is not a lot of love lost between the fire fighters and the police, but when it comes to choosing sides, the fire fighters and the police will often side with each other before they will side with a gay guy. Such was the case, Mike was introduced, not unjustly, to the the City Jail where he spent the night. When I chided him about not maintaining a low profile, he said it had been well worth the jail time. I told him he had no idea what he had done to that poor fire fighter. Not only had he beat him up, he had beat him up in front of his friends. For the rest of his career that poor fire fighter will have to hear about the time he was beat up by the queer!
But it was a good lesson for Mike and his partner, and they have been very careful in public since that incident. But as the article suggests, things really are changing. About a year ago Mike and his partner bought a new house. The house is located on a cul de sac with eight other homes in the 300K - 400K price range. The cul de sac is integrated racially with one black family, one family in which one spouse is white and the other black. The rest of the families are all white. Mike and his partner are the only gays. They almost didn't buy the house because they were afraid the neighbors, who are all older empty nesters would not be happy to see two young gay guys further integrate the cul de sac. Such was not the case. The neighbors have been more than friendly and helpful. They all get together on a regular basis for a pot luck dinner that rotates between the houses. Mike and his partner were quickly invited to join in. At a recent dinner at their home, Mike and his partner even had all the neighbors, even the men, line dancing to some upbeat music. The women all make over Mike's partner, and the men all think Mike is one of their own since he's as masculine as they are and can easily talk sports, as well as anything else, with them.
Last weekend Mike and his partner took a long weekend to a beach house on Galveston Island. They enjoyed walking the beach on a a weekend with perfectly beautiful weather. Mike told me that for the most part the beaches were deserted along their stretch and they took long walks walking hand in hand and talking. On one such walk, they were walking hand in hand and oblivious to what was going on around them. All at once they were confronted with a pickup loaded with young men who appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. No one else was around. Mike admitted he was startled and feared the worst, but he and his partner just smiled and waved at the guys. They all waved back and kept on driving up the beach. A few years ago it could have come out much differently.
America and Americans are definitely changing their attitudes towards gays. I personally think this is because nearly every family has now had to decide how they are going to react to a family member who has come out. They know from personal experience that gay guys are someone's son, nephew, grandson or brother, maybe even their own kin. They are not monsters who have an agenda to recruit as many straight guys as they can into the ranks of gay guys as the Fundamental Christians would have us believe. For the most part, they want what every American wants, to live their lives in peace and make their share of the American Dream their own.
They are doctors, lawyers, salesmen, even preachers. they are white collar and blue collar workers. For the most part, they are model citizens and model neighbors. They keep their property up and their homes are spotless. They tend to earn more than the average, they are better educated than average. They are, simply put, people anyone would be happy to have as friends and neighbors except those who can't get beyond "what they do together."
Fortunately, those people who can't get over it are more and more in the minority. Even among Christians, Christian lay people are decidedly more accepting of gays than are church officials. If it were put to a vote of members rather than having rules made by the church officials, most churches would openly admit gays to membership with full benefits therewith entitled.
The times, they are a changin. It's a wonderful thing to witness. I attended my first gay wedding last summer in a European country that is decidedly and historically Catholic. Yet, the wedding was attended by friends and family and was a happy occasion just as it would have been had it been a heterosexual wedding. When I told one of the quests at the reception that I was surprised that, in light of the country's Catholic history, civil partnerships had been so overwhelmingly legalized, he told me the Catholic church had lost all credibility for telling people how they should act in their sexual lives or what they should believe in sexual matters because of the priest/child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked both Europe and America.
I guess it is a confirmation that my mother was right when she use to tell me that God would use me. He'd use me as a force for good if he could. He'd use me as an example of evil if he had to, and from either, good would come.
Romans 8:37-39 confirms to Christians that nothing in either heaven or earth can ever separate any of us from the love of God. It's too bad that the people who scream most about the need to take the Bible literally do not take that passage literally. But the day is growing ever closer. It will soon be at hand. The time is coming quickly when only the most bigoted and uneducated among us will see gay people as deserving of derision and unworthy of the civil rights enjoyed by straight people. Oh happy day!