Stop Homophobic Bullying – LGBTQIA Rights as Human Rights

Photo of 6 hands touching, each painted a different rainbow colourby Nina Verfaillie

Over the past few years media outlets from around the world have covered the ongoing harassment of the LGBTQIA community through homophobic and transphobic bullying. The stories of homophobic and transphobic bullying appear nearly every day publicizing the stories of different victims and their individual and collective experiences of harassment and disenfranchisement.

Transphobic and homophobic bullying are clear examples of how discriminatory acts of harassment and violence speak to the base vulnerabilities of us all, and violate an individual’s basic rights.

The effects of bullying are well documented. We hear about the obvious suffering and torture of individuals bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We hear documented struggles of families to find recourse and justice in their communities, schools, places of employment and courts of law. These narratives demonstrate how often bullying is documented and reported and also how consistently it is ignored, ill-handled and in some cases supported or even committed by our community leaders.

In a 2011 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, an overwhelming majority of LGBT students reported being harassed for their gender identity or sexual orientation. The study revealed that 81.9% of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students reported being verbally harassed, 38.3% reported being physically harassed and 18.3% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

That means that 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school. LGBT students are 2 to 3 times more bullied than straight hetero-normative students and LGBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide. That figure doubles for LGBT youth who have been rejected by their families.

The effects of bullying are damaging enough without taking into consideration what it’s like to identify with and be part of a group where being bullied because of your specific identity is a dominant experience. LGBT bullying is frequently linked with suicide and depression. There are increased reports of victims engaging in risky sexual and drug-related activities as well as experiencing social adjustment issues and other long-term health concerns. In a school environment being bullied interferes with a student’s ability to learn and perform well and can impact the ability to graduate, find a job or have a career.

Without legal protections enforced through legislative mechanisms and support and participation from academic institutions, homophobic and transphobic bullying will persist and continue to threaten human rights as a whole. Bullying and harassment that specifically targets the LGBTQIA community is a human rights issue and failure to effectively combat and prevent discriminatory bullying based on gender and sexual identities threatens all of us. The absence of justice and victims’ rights cultivates an acceptance of gender and sexual violence and the selective and therefore ineffectual enforcement of human rights and civil protections.

Human rights are the universal fundamental rights of all human beings, inalienable from the human condition. These rights are the expressed embodiments of our shared dignity as people which are to be protected, guaranteed and enjoyed.

Human rights are understood to be the same for everyone. They are intertwined in both conception and practice. Individual human rights are dependent upon each other in order to be fully protected or accessed, and no one right is fully enjoyed without the same protections and guarantees afforded to provide the enjoyment of all rights. They are held through their universality and each individual right is an expression of a larger notion of the rights of us all and the explicit dignities of personhood. Read more

Posted on by Nina Verfaillie in LGBT Leave a comment

My Reality: I Was the 6th Grade “Slut”

unslutby Emily Lindin


I am a woman in my late twenties with a full, satisfying life. I live with my wonderful partner, I love my work, I have supportive friends and colleagues, and I maintain a great relationship with my parents. But about a year ago, during a visit to my childhood home, I discovered my old journals from fifteen years ago and was transported back to a time of intense shame and isolation.

When I was eleven years old, I was branded a “slut” by my classmates. For the next few years of my life, I was harassed incessantly at school, after school, and online. I decided to create The UnSlut Project in the hopes that by publishing my own diary entries, I could provide some perspective to girls who are going through something similar right now.

Since starting The UnSlut Project, I have been contacted by many women who want to share their stories, too. This is a chance for us to prove, through sharing the details of our own experiences, that slut shaming is a strong negative force that has affected the lives of many women. It’s also an opportunity to help girls who are currently suffering from this type of shame, providing them with hope that it will get better.If you have had an experience you’d like to share, or if you can offer some words of advice and encouragement to young women who need them, please contribute by clicking the “Share Your Experience” button.

Here is one of Emily’s diary entries as published on The UnSlut Project.

“Why did you all of a sudden hate me after we went to third base?”

March 12, 1998

Today in gym, Zach was sitting next to Maggie on the bleachers and I was sitting on the other side of her. Maggie was making a paper fortune teller. Zach and I started talking, and it started off as us throwing insults at each other but soon we got to something meaningful. Zach said, “You’re such a bitch!” [Like I said… something meaningful.]I said, “You act as if I did something wrong to you!” He said, “You did! You act all PMS-y towards me, telling me to fuck off.” I screamed, “Well, you used me!” “No, I didn’t!” “Then why did you all of a sudden hate me after we went to third base?”Matt walked by and snickered, “Hump ’em and dump ’em, right, Zach?” [Again, Matt with the perfect comedic timing.]Zach looked at me pleadingly and said, “I never said that.” I glared at him. He said, “Fine, you don’t believe me?” I could tell he was getting mad, so I said softly, “No, I believe you.” He smiled. “Good.” [I’d like to point out that this entire exchange took place over Maggie, who was just trying to make a fortune teller.]After school, he called me. He informed me that we were still going out: “I never officially dumped you.” I sighed, “Well, when you called me a whore you pretty much dumped me, and if you didn’t, then I’d only be in my right mind to dump you.”

He said, “Fine, then dump me.” “No…” “Why not?” “I don’t know how to dump someone.” “Just say, ‘I don’t want to go out with you anymore.’” “But I can’t…” “Okay.” He gave up.Then I confessed to him that I am bulimic (even though I am not) and so he decided to try to make himself throw up. I don’t know if he succeeded. So we’re on good terms now.

[I’m not sure what part of this last bit is the strangest: that I lied about being bulimic, that it could possibly be unclear whether the person on the other end of the phone had thrown up or not; or that this exchange somehow signified to me that we were “on good terms now.”]

Posted on by Emily Lindin in Feminism, My Reality 1 Comment

Canadian Politicians Let Bullied Kids Down

Pink Shirt Girlby Jarrah Hodge

Despite more and more high-profile bullying cases being reported in the media recently, in the last few days we’ve seen two anti-bullying policies defeated in Canada. The first was a motion brought forward by the Edmonton Public School District to the Alberta School Boards Association to protect LGBT students and staff from bullying through requiring schools to develop a zero-tolerance policy.

Disgracefully, 62% of trustees voted the measure down, including representatives from the Calgary Catholic and public school districts.

“Our concern was that if you are appearing to promote one group preferentially over the other, that it’s not appropriate,” Calgary Catholic chairwoman Mary Martin said in the Calgary Herald.

ABSA President Jacquie Hansen echoed Martin’s remarks, telling the Edmonton Journal that the ABSA didn’t want a policy that only protected LGBT kids. At least that was a nicer way of framing it than Pembina Hills trustee Dale Schaffrick, who was forced to apologize after telling the CBC that kids should act less gay to avoid bullying:

“If children with a gay tendency appear a certain way, we know that we have to be vigilant to make sure they are not discriminated against,” Schaffrick told CBC News.

When asked if those students should try to be less identifiable, he said, “I think for their own benefit… it would be helpful.”

The idea that LGBT kids somehow ask to be bullied by acting or appearing a certain way, and that their sexual orientation is nothing more than a “tendency”, is obviously ridiculous and offensive. But let’s take a step back again to look at what the more mainstream folks said about why they opposed this motion: because it singled out LGBT students and staff for protection from bullying. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, LGBT, Politics Leave a comment

New Survey May Say More About Gender Expression than Youth Mental Health

crying boyby Ashli Scale

Last week Global Montreal posted a news article about a survey conducted by Queen’s University in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. A total of 26,000 youth between the ages of 11 and 15 were surveyed. The main gist of the results is that girls are more likely to have emotional problems and mental health concerns than boys. However, the method of information gathering and the types of questions asked may actually tell us more about gender expression than mental health. To illustrate my concerns I have analyzed two survey conclusions below.

1. “While boys are more likely than girls to report behavioural problems such as cutting classes or skipping school, talking back to teachers and getting into fights, girls are more likely to report emotional problems – feeling low, feeling nervous or helpless, feeling left out of things or feeling lonely” (Global Montreal, 2012).

I provide social support to homeless and street-involved youth. In my experience, the vast majority of male youth DO experience feelings of depression, nervousness, loneliness or alienation but DON’T feel comfortable expressing these feelings. Instead, they act them out in more masculine and socially-approved ways – getting into fights, bullying or withdrawing. Remember, boys are raised to be MEN and told that real men don’t cry or show signs of weakness. Read more

Posted on by Ashli Scale in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

Panel: Do We Need New Words for Bullying?

Pink Shirt GirlYesterday was Pink Shirt Day or Anti-Bullying Day and it got me thinking about the words we use to describe bullying. Some people have raised the concern that the word “bullying” isn’t strong enough – that it lends itself to to be written off by someone saying “kids will be kids”. Take, for example, the following quote from Jowhara Sanders in an interview with Children’s Voice Magazine:

“I don’t even think the word bullying is a strong enough word for what is going on.” She believes that what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger, she reiterates, “but it is killing them.”

Others – feminist organizations in particular – have brought up the issue that much of what we call “bullying” is in fact sexual harassment. The argument is not only that the word “bullying” is not seen as as serious as “sexual harassment” but that it obscures the sexism and objectification behind the behaviour. Here’s a quote from a related article on the Ms. Magazine blog:

Despite headlines that label all harassment in schools as bullying, there is a difference between sexual harassment and bullying. And it’s an important one. When schools, the media and the public mislabel sexual harassment as bullying, they negate the role that sex and gender play in the abusive behavior. Bullying is not based on a student’s sex; sexual harassment is. Students are bullied because they may be annoying to a classmate, wear their hair differently, don’t wear the “right” brand of shoes or come from the wrong side of town. Their victimization is not based on their sex (or other protected classes such as race, religion or disability). Most significantly, bullying is not a violation of federal and state civil rights laws–but sexual harassment is.

Similarly, some, such as educators Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, feel homophobic and racist bullying would in any other situation be called “hate speech”: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 4 Comments

Pink for a Day

Pink Shirt Girl

by Alicia Costa

I have been spending a lot of time in my car as of late and am thus subjected to a lot of terrible radio. Lately I’ve been hearing one particularly annoying ad on one of the major radio stations. “From now to February 15th submit your design for a new anti-bullying t-shirt and you could win $500! The winning design will be sold at Metrotown with all proceeds going to Kids Help Phone.” Wee! Anti bullying is fun and lucrative! This contest runs in conjunction with ‘Pink Shirt Day’ on Feb 29 to raise awareness and promote zero-tolerance about bullying.

I really appreciate the sentiment behind Pink Shirt Day – it started as a grassroots organization by two grade 9 boys in an effort to stop the constant bullying they saw of a classmate. However, I have grown to resent the constant connection between ‘raising awareness’ and selling junk. Read more

Posted on by Alicia Costa in Can-Con, LGBT 1 Comment

The Skinny on Childhood Obesity

One of the young overweight girls featured in an anti- childhood obesity campaign in Georgia was interviewed last week on CBS about her involvement in the project.  The project featured five overweight children, each linked to a different way children are affected by being obese. Chloe McSwain, 11 boasted high self-esteem by telling CBS News she thinks she is “very pretty.” McSwain wanted to be involved in the project to “help kids” by raising awareness.

According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the folks who created this campaign, over one million kids in Georgia are classified as “obese”. The campaign is aimed at parents in an effort to give them a “wake-up call” about childhood obesity because “75 percent of parents of overweight or obese children don’t see the problem.”

Firstly, I think the images of overweight children on billboards and TV ads achieve little else than fat-shaming overweight kids. As someone who was an overweight kid, these ads make me cringe. When you are a fat kid there are a million things a day including mainstream media and images that remind you that you are not the norm. I think it’s great that McSwain has high self-esteem but I do not think this is reflective of overweight children living within the unrealistic body images they are bombarded with today. Read more

Posted on by Alicia Costa in Feminism, Pop Culture 6 Comments