What’s the big deal about the use of “that’s so gay”?
Using “gay” as a synonym for “lame” or “stupid” has become common among kids all the way from middle school to college. Comments like “that sweater is so gay” actually have nothing to do with sexuality per se, and young people often use such language without even being aware of the implied slur. Gay kids, kids perceived to be gay, and straight ones with LGBT parents are most susceptible to these kinds of homophobic messages that can also lay the groundwork for anti-gay bullying – even violence. A recent study by GLSEN reported that 9 out of 10 teens who are LGBT said they had been verbally harassed in the past year, and almost half said it was because of their sexual orientation. There’s a great public service campaign featuring Wanda Sykes that is drawing attention to the problem. Check it out.
How has the Internet changed the way my gay child is bullied?
Back in the “old” days, bullying usually started and stopped on school property. When kids got home, they found themselves in a “safe” zone. No such luck today where online bullying, especially the defacement of Facebook walls with hateful or derogatory comments, occurs 24/7. Even worse, these services allow bullies to remain anonymous or to hide under pseudonyms so that our young people don’t even know who they’re up against.
What’s the best way for our family to handle a bullying situation affecting our child?
It’s important for all moms and dads, regardless of their sexual orientation or that of their children, to allow for an open-door policy between parent and tween or teen. That means setting expectations early – before any issues arise – about talking together about any form of teasing, harassment, or bullying. You don’t want your kid to try to handle this by him/herself. If an incident seems like more than a one-off scuffle, then talk to your child’s teacher or principal as well as to other parents about whether the school needs to institute an anti-bullying program. Note that some states protect our kids under anti-LGBT bullying statutes; federal civil rights statutes may also apply.
What can other kids do help fight anti-gay harassment or bullying?
Lots of things. First off, bullies thrive on isolating individuals perceived to be different or weaker. Stand up for your friends and support them, whether that means walking to and from school with them – or posting really supportive messages on their Facebook walls. (Of course, don’t do anything that puts your safety at risk.) Join a gay-straight student alliance (or help start one); there are now thousands of these school organizations that are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive environment for young people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Gay-Straight Alliance Network is the place to go.
How can I teach my child to be more respectful to his/her LGBT peers?
Good parenting is about teaching our kids to live by the values we aspire to: tolerance, diversity, respect, and self-respect. Don’t make these lessons specific to their LGBT peers. Make them universal – and lead by example in your day-to-day life.
Steven Petrow is the author of the book, Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners.