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Study reveals Latino parents views on LGBT bullying
Nearly all say info on gays should come from parents

by David Stout . Q-Notes staff

‘Talking with children about sexual orientation may not be easy, but it will help them learn to better handle situations of bullying and to respect and value others,’ said MHA President David Shern.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The results of a national study of Latino parents on the issues of bullying, sexual orientation and prejudice were released Oct. 17. The landmark study was commissioned by Mental Health America (MHA) to better understand parent-child communication in Latino families.

The study findings were announced to coincide with the release of MHA’s new Spanish-language initiative, “Qué Significa Ser Gay?” (“What Does Gay Mean?”). The campaign works to foster an environment of respect for all people. It helps parents communicate with their children early and responsibly to reduce anti-gay prejudice and bullying and promote the mental wellness of LGBT youth.

MHA, whose mission is to “help all people live mentally healthier lives,” is working with its affiliates in Raleigh, New York City and Montgomery County, Md., a D.C. suburb, to conduct programs with Latino parents in their communities as part of the initiative.

The study yielded eye-opening data. For example, despite the fact that nearly all Latino parents surveyed (95 percent) believe information on sexual orientation should come from parents, two-thirds have not started such conversations with their children.

“Bullying and the use of gay slurs in schoolyards and communities are far too common in America,” said David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of MHA. “It has serious effects on children’s self-esteem, schoolwork and overall development. Talking with children about sexual orientation may not be easy, but it will help them learn to better handle situations of bullying and to respect and value others.”

In 2005, nearly one-third of students reported being bullied at school during a six-month period, according to the Department of Education. The U.S. Sex Information and Education Council found that perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identification are two of the top three reasons youth are bullied.

Young people who are bullied are at an increased risk of mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and suicide. LGBT youth are at even greater risk. Studies consistently show that LGBT youth are at least two times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide.

Additional prejudice about LGBT issues is felt in communities of color, and LGBT youth within these communities represent a “minority within a minority,” putting them at even greater risk of being bullied.

In fact, due to their race or ethnicity, LGBT students of color feel less safe at school than white LGBT students (16.6 percent versus 3.8 percent) according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Almost a quarter of these students experience physical harassment due to their sexual orientation alone, and 13.2 percent due to both their sexual orientation and race or ethnicity.

“Young people of color who are bullied for sexual orientation or gender identification are not only at risk of bullying, assault and isolation, but they are at risk for problems such as depression, school failure and suicide,” said Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, M.D., Ph.D., board chair of MHA. “All of these problems are preventable in part through improved parent-child
communication.”

Key findings from “What Does Gay Mean?: A Survey of Latino Parents’ Perspectives on Bullying, Sexual Orientation and Prejudice” include the following:

• Nearly all Latino parents believe it is important that their children get information about sexual orientation directly from them (95 percent).

• Most Latino parents have not started conversations on sexual orientation (64 percent). Likewise, only a quarter of children initiate these conversations with their parents (26 percent).

• Seventy percent feel somewhat, not very or not at all prepared to talk with their children about people who are gay.

• Sixty-three percent feel it is important for parents to teach their children that it is wrong to treat other people differently because they are gay.

• If told by their child that a classmate was bullied for being gay, over one-third would talk with their child about the situation (35 percent), a third would teach their child how to handle the situation (34 percent) and about a quarter would discuss how they should treat the bullied child (23 percent).

• Age had an impact on how parents would handle the situation if their child told them a classmate was bullied because of sexual orientation. Parents between 45 and 54 were significantly more likely than older or younger parents to talk with their kids about the situation and explain that bullying is wrong.

• Nearly a quarter of Latino parents do not recognize that bullying of gay students happens at all (22 percent). Fifty-nine percent of parents recognize bullying of gay students happens in their child’s school: 17 percent say it happens occasionally, 15 percent feel it happens sometimes, 12 percent think it happens often and 15 percent say it happens all the time. Seventeen percent do not know if it happens.

• Over three-quarters of Latino parents feel it is harmful for children to tease each other for being gay — regardless of whether they are or not (76 percent).

Interviews were conducted by International Communications Research, an independent research company, July 10-23 in English and/or Spanish among a representative sample of 503 Latino respondents 18 and older with children up to 17 years old. The margin of error is +/- 4.37 at the 95 percent confidence level.

info: mentalhealthamerica.net/go/surveys

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