LGB Youth: Coping Mechanisms for Bullying

Research on the schooling experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth in Israel and in other Western countries has found that LGB youth tend to cope with homophobic bullying in five different ways. The recent Israeli research also reinforces the help of community organizations to the mental and social health of LGB kids.

Since 2004, the Israeli Gay Youth Organization (IGY) has conducted National School Climate Surveys, applying the social-ecological framework and providing unprecedented evidence-based data analysis regarding the LGBTQ school experience. These research reports consistently indicate that there are high rates of verbal, physical, and sexual victimization based on sexual orientation, gender identities, and gender expressions within Israeli schools. Similar findings have been reported in studies of other Western countries, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States

A recent study, conducted by Eyal Ben-Ami MA and Rachel L. Erhard PhD, discerns the ecological and self factors that could assist Israeli LGB adolescent secondary school students in coping with school homophobic bullying. The research, which was published in the Journal of Homosexuality, questions how LGB adolescents cope with homophobic bullying in Israeli schools.

The researchers conducted a qualitative study based on semi structured interviews with 20 LGB-identified secondary school students. The findings and implications emphasized the key role of adequate ecological protective factors for LGB youth in enhancing effective coping mechanisms in response to school homophobic bullying.

The conducted interviews revealed three ecological protective enabling factors: Minority group coping, virtual advocacy and heterosexual peer acceptance.

Minority group coping is enabled to LGBT youth individuals though group meetings organized by LGBT organization like IGY. Meetings in groups provide LGB teens an affirmative, welcoming, and safe environment characterized by high levels of acceptance and new opportunities for supportive friendships.

Other ecological protective factors that where proved as helpful were the virtual LGB advocacy community, that becomes a meaningful resource of knowledge and available virtual social support groups, and the heterosexual school peer acceptance, which proved that positive feedback from the close heterosexual friends helps the LGB teens develop a healthy self-confidence.

As for reaction to bullying in schools, the study highlights five different coping mechanisms that LGB youth take against bullying.

Cognitive appraisal of school anti-LGB incidents: Cognitive appraisal is defined as the process by which a person evaluates whether a particular encounter with the environment is relevant to his or her wellbeing and, if so, how. Ten of the study participants primarily used cognitive reappraisal to reduce the emotional arousal evoked by homophobic incidents, which elicited less intense undesirable negative outcomes on the study participants’ wellbeing.

Assertive communication: 10 of the study participants successfully affected different social situations by defending basic rights, such as their physical and psychological safety, and expressing themselves in a firm and self-confident manner.

Becoming an advocate on behalf of the LGB community at school: The study participants who became advocates were assertive, and they courageously discussed their sexuality with their school peers, emphasizing that human beings are different in many aspects but still equal. Additionally, they showed a strong commitment to LGBT rights and the LGBT agenda in their schools.

Tactical ignoring: All 20 study participants experienced homophobic school bullying, particularly those who were about to graduate from high school. They reported that tactical ignoring was effective against derogatory remarks from other
school peers.

Questioning and resisting sexual labels: Six of the study participants felt that labeling their sexuality based on external coercion and restrictive sexual categories such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are unhelpful and make little sense for their realities, for various reasons. Five of them stated that they were attracted to both sexes/genders, and one reported being attracted only to the same sex/gender.

The research findings indicate that school peer group interpersonal interactions during adolescence function as a bipolar factor (both a risk and protective factor). Whereas LGB youth support groups and the acceptance of most of their school heterosexual friendship groups were found to be a salient and meaningful strength resource, most of the study participants had been deeply affected by some of their classmates and their school peers’ homophobic bullying, particularly during their early adolescence in middle school. However, homophobic bullying also persists in high school. (Homophobic bullying includes teasing, homophobic name-calling,
humiliation, social exclusion, rumors, and physical assaults.)

Most of the study participants illustrated their proactive capacity to perceive and fully exploit available and accessible psychological, cultural, and physical resources that sustained their wellbeing. More explicitly, they demonstrated the crucial ability to seek out help and to navigate ways to external supportive resources by themselves. This personal agency draws from their self-resilience, and participants who had not disclosed their stigmatized sexual orientation to their family members or to their school peers nonetheless courageously attended the meeting of the LGB youth support groups.