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New book tackles high school homophobia

November 4, 2010

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It Gets Better, an Internet campaign to support bullied gay and lesbian youth, has gone viral with more than 10 million views online since it kicked off in late September.

But a new book by SFU criminology researchers Rebecca Haskell and Brian Burtch cautions that efforts to combat homophobic bullying should not be limited to occasional awareness campaigns.

In Get That Freak: Homophobia and Transphobia in High Schools (Brunswick Books), Haskell and Burtch encouraged 16 gay youth to speak for themselves about the extent of—and solutions to—the problem of homo- and trans-phobic bullying in high school.

Their verdict: Everyday verbal abuse is the real problem, not the threat of physical violence—despite media reports to the contrary. And the hurtful name-calling extends to students of either sex who stray outside gender norms, whether or not they are in fact gay.

“Homophobic bullying occurs daily in high schools and can have a devastating impact,” says Haskell, pointing to a recent spate of teen suicides across North America. “Our efforts to counter it must likewise occur throughout the year—not just during an annual campaign.”

The authors recommend that teachers, parents and “anyone else wanting to reach out and support queer youth” strive to:
  • Create “safe spaces”, such as gay-straight alliances for students to gather and share experiences.
  • Ask youth what they need and lend a listening ear if they want to talk.
  • Recognize and intervene in the classroom and beyond school boundaries when comments are intentionally hurtful.
  • Expand the definitions of what constitutes gender-appropriate behaviour.

Haskell says the book gives voice to positive stories as well negative ones.

“We heard many examples of things going right: a teacher who intervened, a gay-straight alliance that offered support or an accepting family. We wanted to challenge the familiar idea that these youth are helpless victims.”

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