The Tragic Cost Of Bullying Our Gay Youth

Shame On Us. Shame On Us. Shame On Us. 

Sounds harsh?  Wait, until you hear the statistics. The society we have collectively created, not just in India, the world over, is slowly and systematically making it difficult for our young gay people to be themselves.

This week, you may have read  of a young teenage boy from Faridabad in India, jumping to his death due to the constant harassment and  bullying at school,  for being gay. As it happens, this is not an isolated incident.

In 2007, Stonewall UK launched its School Report, a ground-breaking study into the experiences of 1,100 lesbian, gay and bi pupils in Britain’s schools. Published four years after the repeal of Section 28 (equivalent to the Section 377 in India), it revealed a startling picture: two in three lesbian, gay and bi pupils had been bullied at school because of their sexual orientation, and just one in four schools said this bullying was wrong.

I tried to dig into reports in India and  have found similar alarming statistics. The impact and consequences of bullying is  scary. According to a UNESCO  (New Delhi) report conducted in India, harassment starts at primary school level. From those who participated in the survey,  60% faced bullying in middle/high school, 43% sexually harassed in primary  school and only 18% felt safe enough to report instances to school authorities.70% of those bullied suffered from anxiety and depression, lost focus in studies and 33 percent dropped out of school altogether.

In June 2021, my same sex partner and I started an online show, ‘Coming Out Stories from India’. We interviewed 25 guests, all from the LGBT community in India. Real lived experiences of filmmakers, curators, journalists, chefs, lecturers, and so on, ranging from ages 24 onwards.

Guess what was the common thread?

Most had been bullied at school. Not just by their fellow students but also by the school authorities. In some cases by their own teachers. It took me by surprise when a 24 year old talked about being bullied by her teachers as a teenager. I thought to myself, surely things would have changed since my school days in India in the 80’s. Apparently not!

Now, imagine this!

  • Imagine, you are young person confused about your sexuality, and are still struggling to understand “who” you are and  “your feelings“.
  • Imagine you are a young boy, maybe a little effeminate being called a “sissy”, or a young girl who prefers to wear jeans, have short hair, plays sports and labelled a tomboy or someone struggling with unwanted body changes through puberty.
  • Imagine you have no one to discuss and confide in at home.
  • Imagine your fellow students in your class and at your school continuously taunt and bully you.
  • Imagine your own teachers joining in or not protecting you, thus encouraging other students to continue with their harassment.
  • Imagine your teachers putting the blame on your “looks” or your “behaviour” rather than reprimanding the bullies.
  • Imagine the school authorities ignoring such behaviours and blaming you rather than taking steps to stop the bullying.
  • Imagine, your parents get to know and they make you feel ashamed, guilty and responsible for bringing shame to them.

What would you do?

Unfortunately many of  our youth feel they have no other option, as in the case of this young boy from Faridabad, and take the extreme step of suicide.

As a society we are failing our children. As an advocate for the LGBT community, I get such messages on a daily basis that makes my heart cry for the young people, particularly from India.

Those reading this and thinking I am being overdramatic, consider yourself very fortunate that you can live your life freely. Sadly, this is not true for most of us in the LGBT community – young  or old.

Bullying comes in many forms. Name calling, stealing,   overt discrimination,  ignoring the person, gossiping, physical and  assault, threatening them with rape,  even death and outing them to the wider community. 

Can you even imagine the psychological impact of this on a young person?

We all expect our homes and schools to be a safe place to learn and grow. If we don’t make our children feel safe at home or at our schools, where they spend so much of their formative years, who will our children turn to?

Statistics show a decline in focus, grades, participation in school activities, poor behaviour, absenteeism from school as key areas of concern as a result of this kind of bullying.  There have been several instances of students dropping out of school due to the constant mental trauma faced by them, as the UNESCO statistic reports.

Coming back to the Stonewall UK survey, the interesting part of this was that based on the findings from the original report, over the past decade Stonewall has worked with governments, schools and local authorities across Britain to help them combat this bullying and create more inclusive schools.

Stonewall’s later School Report 2017, a study of over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) pupils across Britain, demonstrates the continued positive impact of this work. Since the 2007 School Report, the number of lesbian, gay and bi pupils bullied because of their sexual orientation has fallen by almost a third. The number of schools who say this bullying is wrong has nearly trebled, and homophobic remarks are far less likely to be heard. Thanks to the dedication of teachers, schools and government organisations across Britain, more LGBT young people than ever are able to be themselves at school. (Source: Stonewall and Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, 2017. School Report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017)

Perhaps it is time for us to create a partnership between schools, government organisations and families in India as well and introduce laws and policies that address this serious issue.

At the least, as parents we need to check if our schools have anti-bullying policies because this matters.  Today there is greater willingness among institutions to engage with issues related to sexual orientation, but these are still in the minority.

For parents and teachers who struggle with understanding of LGBT issues , there are many resources available these days, including a parent group based out of India, Sweekar the Rainbow Parents. There are community leaders like myself, who are available for any guidance.

Schools need to reassess the curriculum and include sex education and LGBT sensitisation. This needs to start with the teachers first. Include parents, families as well as the students. There will be the initial push back, but over time things will change for the better.

In today’s global technologically driven world, we can no longer make any excuses for lack of information. If you find your child struggling with their sexuality, make an effort to find information, get yourself educated, listen and hold their hand. If they have your support, they can fight the world. If the school shows lack of empathy or seems to be homophobic, fight hard with the authorities, call out their homophobia, change schools if needed, but do not  let your child put up with this homophobic behaviour alone.

Perhaps we will then have no more young people leaping off buildings, because they see no other way out.

Perhaps we will over time create an inclusive culture.

Perhaps, at 50 I still live in an idealistic world.

Can we stop bringing shame to ourselves. After all we are THE society WE talk about!

Edited by : Nicola Fenton