In a new twist on victim blaming, a school district in the UK has advised students who are being bullied over homosexuality to “act less gay” and change their appearance.
According to the Halstead Gazette:
In a damning report by Essex County Council, pupils revealed they had been accused of making themselves a target for bullies by choosing to behave or look differently.
As well as criticizing their supposed sexuality, teachers reportedly told youngsters to “wear their hair differently” if they wanted to avoid trouble.
Teachers interviewed acknowledged they’d had “limited training” to deal with bullying. But even though more training is clearly needed, this incident also shows a disturbing attitude about homophobic bullying: that it’s the victim’s fault for not trying harder to conform to heterosexual norms.
Andy Towle of Towleroad compared the UK news to another recent incident where a Missouri teacher told a student on Facebook the moral of gay 15-year-old Jamie Hubley’s death was: “Don’t be gay.”
Now who here remembers school? Kids can get bullied for all kinds of things, and it often has nothing to do with how they’re behaving. I was bullied for my clothes, but when I started dressing differently I was bullied for other things. I was taunted as a “slut” and “whore” as early as grade 5 though I’d never even dated anyone. I was also bullied for being a “dyke” though, again, I had never dated anyone of any gender. I can only imagine that homophobic bullying would feel even more toxic if you knew you were gay or if you were questioning your sexuality.
My point is that trying to change who you are has no effect on bullying, and that giving that advice might be the worst thing you can say to a kid who’s experiencing that kind of abuse. It encourages them to internalize the attacks. Telling kids experiencing homophobic bullying that they have to be patient and sit it out while the bullies get off scot-free is never going to mitigate the very real and devastating effects of the bullying. According to a fact sheet from the Government of Alberta:
Sadly, suicide is the number one cause of death for sexual minority youth in North America. Importantly, it is not sexual minority youth who are inherently at-risk, rather it is the pervasive societal culture of homophobia and heterosexism that threatens their health, safety, and well-being.
Now that there’s been an outcry about the situation in Essex County it looks like the school district will be revising its stance. Keeping fingers crossed.
Photo by Circuit-Fantasist via Wikimedia Commons.