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National Survey of Teens Shows Anti-Gay Bullying Common in Schools

New NMHA Program Reaches Out to Parents to Help End Bullying

Thu Dec 12,12:33 PM ET To: National Desk

Contact: Chris Condayan of the National Mental Health Association,


ALEXANDRIA, Va., Dec. 12 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Bullying and other harassment towards gay teens and teens who are perceived to be gay is widespread in America's schools and communities, according to a new survey of teens sponsored by the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), the nation's oldest and largest mental health organization.

More than three-quarters of teens (78 percent) report that kids who are gay or thought to be gay are teased or bullied in their schools and communities. Nine out of ten teens (93 percent) hear other kids at school or in their neighborhood use words like "fag," "homo," "dyke," "queer," or "gay" at least once in a while, with 51 percent hearing them every day. Four out of five teen respondents said they disapprove of the taunting.

"Bullying is unacceptable in any form," said Michael Faenza, NMHA president and CEO. "When bullied, gay youth and those thought to be gay face an increased risk for depression, anxiety disorders, school failure and suicide, especially when they don't have a system of support. Schools, community groups and parents share the responsibility of preventing and stopping this prejudice."

NMHA has launched a nationwide program called "What Does Gay Mean?" to help parents talk to their kids about such prejudice. The centerpiece of the program is a brochure of the same name, written by child psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Ponton, one of the country's top experts on adolescent sexuality.

"Parents need to know that, gay or straight, their teens may face anti-gay bullying," said Faenza. "Talking to your kids about bullying and its consequences can protect them and other kids from this damaging experience."

According to a 1996 study by the Safe Schools Coalition, three out of four kids targeted by anti-gay bullies are heterosexual. Though all children suffer from anti-gay prejudice, gay youth tend to suffer the worst consequences. According to various studies, one third of gay students are physically harassed due to their sexual orientation and one in six is beaten badly enough to need medical attention. Compared to straight kids, gay teens are four times more likely to be threatened with a weapon at school, and three to seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

"As parents we are often uncomfortable talking to our children about issues of sexual identity," Faenza said, "but kids need to learn about tolerance at home before they pick up intolerance on the playground and elsewhere."

The brochure includes tips on how to talk to children of various ages about people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and offers resources on how to talk to their kids about sexual orientation in a way that is consistent with their values.

As part of the "What Does Gay Mean?" program, local NMHA affiliates nationwide are distributing the brochures and sponsoring educational activities for parents and other caregivers. The brochure and other program materials are available to families free of charge from the NMHA Resource Center at 800-969-NMHA (6642) or at

Survey Highlights Students surveyed overwhelmingly oppose anti-gay bullying and taunting. Only a minority support or accept this behavior.

-- Nearly four out of five (78 percent) of teens reject expressions of anti-gay bias and five percent of those say they try to stick up for the kids who are targets.

-- Four percent of teens say they participate in anti-gay bullying or think that it is funny or justified, making comments such as "I don't think much of it, we are just playing around."

-- Eleven percent ignore it or don't care, saying for example, "I guess I've grown to live with it."

-- Other comments include "it makes me upset because even though they might be gay or whatever, it doesn't give them the right to call them those names," and "it's not fair because people are different than others."

The NMHA survey was conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) of Media, PA. ICR completed telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 760 kids (ages 12-17) about their experience with and opinions about anti-gay teasing and bullying in their schools and neighborhoods.

The NMHA "What Does Gay Mean?" anti-bullying initiative is supported by the David Bohnett Foundation, the Columbia Foundation, the R. Gwin Follis Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Horizons Foundation, Stephanie and Carter McClelland, SBC Communications and the Tides Foundation.

The National Mental Health Association is the country's oldest and largest nonprofit organization addressing all aspects of mental health and mental illness. With more than 340 affiliates nationwide, NMHA works to improve the mental health of all Americans through advocacy, education, research and service.

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