What Schools Can Do to Help Gay/lesbian/bisexual Youth: A Harm Reduction Approach

By van Wormer, Katherine; McKinney, Robin | Adolescence, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

What Schools Can Do to Help Gay/lesbian/bisexual Youth: A Harm Reduction Approach


van Wormer, Katherine, McKinney, Robin, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

The harm reduction model is gaining currency in the addictions field worldwide. The theme of this approach, from the treatment perspective, is to "meet clients where they are " and help them protect themselves from harm. According to Denning (2000), "The primary principle is to accept the fact that people do engage in high-risk behaviors and to commit to helping those people reduce the harm associated with their behavior" (p. 4). The harm reduction approach is relevant for gay and lesbian youth, who are the same as all young people when it comes to many of the risks related to early and secretive sexual activity, accompanied, as it so often is, by alcohol and other drug use. Here, however, problems are compounded by the absence of social support, adult role models, and relevant sex education within a heterosexist school environment.

We do not need extensive research to understand the situation: mistreatment of youth who seem different, mistreatment by other youth who fear, deep down, that they may be different too. Further, those who are taunted the most generally lack the protection of family members, teachers, and religious leaders, the people to whom youth usually turn for support. This paper discusses the social dynamics of school harassment and then describes promising programs that are being developed for the benefit of all children. An argument is made for schools to hire, not fire, openly gay and lesbian teachers to serve as positive role models, and for every school to employ one or more social workers to help create a climate of support and acceptance.

BACKGROUND

Data, limited though they may be, from various international sources on suicide rates, substance-abuse involvement, and other self-destructive behaviors indicate that the school system in the U.S., Europe, and to a lesser extent Canada is largely a toxic environment for gender-nonconforming girls and boys. The fact that these data are relatively limited reflects the lack of research that has been conducted on the intense discrimination that some children experience. Research on strategies for reducing homophobia (fear of homosexuality) and heterosexism (neglect of, and prejudice against, nonheterosexuals) is also sadly lacking.

When formal instruction about sexuality occurs in school classrooms, homosexuality often is omitted or mentioned in a negative context. By addressing only intercourse prevention, abstinence-only programs present a very heterosexist view of sexuality. The assumption is that there are no gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in the class or that they do not count. Schools, which could do so much, are doing little.

Statistics on verbal, physical, and sexual harassment at school tell the same story worldwide. A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN, 1999) showed that 90% of students from across the U.S. had heard anti-gay epithets at school, many from teachers. Sixty-nine percent of the gay and lesbian teens reported verbal or physical harassment at school.

In the United Kingdom, attention is being devoted to the fate of schoolchildren who face intimidation (Charles, 2000). In an interview of 190 lesbian and gay young adults who were bullied at school, researchers found that four out of ten bullied about their sexuality attempted suicide or harmed themselves by cutting or burning their skin. Many dropped out of school. More than one in six suffered post-traumatic stress disorder in later life. It was found that the bullying started at age ten, before they had even begun to think of their sexual orientation. It was concluded that the schools were doing little about the problem; some counselors were even making things worse.

In parts of the Middle East, all forms of out-of-wedlock sexuality are suppressed with a vengeance: adulterers and gays are beaten or worse. In a climate of severe oppression of women, lesbians rarely reveal their sexual orientation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Schools Can Do to Help Gay/lesbian/bisexual Youth: A Harm Reduction Approach
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.