Addressing Research Gaps in the Intersection between Homophobia and Bullying

By Espclage, Dorothy L.; Swearer, Susan M. | School Psychology Review, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Addressing Research Gaps in the Intersection between Homophobia and Bullying


Espclage, Dorothy L., Swearer, Susan M., School Psychology Review


Abstract. Bullying, aggression, and peer victimization among adolescents are significant public health concerns. Recent research has demonstrated that bullying and peer victimization sometimes include homophobic epithets directed at heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. It appears that being at the receiving end of homophobic banter generally contributes to worse outcomes among youth. This article highlights methodological issues in conducting research with LGBT youth, and stresses the importance of using theoretically and empirically supported definitions, including youth who are sexually questioning, focusing on multiple social and cultural contexts, and examining how support networks serve as buffering agents with regard to the effect of homophobic bullying on psychological outcomes.

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Despite the links between bullying and homophobia, there has been little effort to integrate these areas of study. Findings focused on these topics highlight the prevalence and serious consequences of each area within the education system (Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Kosciw, 2004; Rivers, 2001; Stein, 1995). Broadly conceived, aggression includes behaviors such as fighting, name-calling, bullying, and social exclusion (Crick, 1996, Espelage, Bosworth, & Simon, 2000). Indicators of homophobia include negative attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and stereotypes toward individuals who are not exclusively heterosexual (referred to as LGBT--lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals; Wright, Adams, & Bernat, 1999). Research suggests that victimization as a result of homophobia is not necessarily limited to LGBT-identified individuals, but can create a hostile climate for all students as it is a way in which masculine/feminine gender-role norms are promoted and maintained (Epstein, 2001). Some 20 years ago in the book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, written by the founder of the Women's Project in Arkansas, Suzanne Pharr (1988), it was recognized that homophobia marginalizes and oppresses LGBT individuals, especially women. Pharr, in her chapter on eliminating homophobia, argued that prevention has to be at multiple levels, and pointed to the importance of eliminating the tendency for adults to overlook children and adolescents calling others derogatory names (i.e., "faggot").

More recent qualitative and ethnographic investigations have expanded on the importance of changing the language children and adolescents use, improving school environments that promote homophobic attitudes and behaviors, and protecting sexually questioning and LGBT youth (Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; Phoenix, Frosh, & Pattman, 2003; Plummer, 2001). These studies, coupled with recent quantitative studies (Poteat & Espelage, 2005; Poteat, Espelage, & Green, 2007), have found strong associations among bullying, sexual orientation, and homophobia, and all of these have been related to negative school environments and over time related to negative psychological outcomes for students.

This special series includes four data-based investigations that explore the relation among sexual orientation, homophobia, and bullying along with other mental health issues among middle and high school students. From these articles we work to frame the concept of homophobia within the context of current bullying research. By doing so, we seek to further examine ways in which homophobia perpetuates and defines forms of bullying and aggression. Several outcome variables are included in this research and underscore the serious nature of these social problems among adolescents. The research we present is quantitative in nature, and expands upon and clarifies prior qualitative findings. Collectively, our findings support the argument that homophobia and bullying should be examined concurrently in future research, and that discussion of homophobia should be included in bullying intervention programs within schools. …

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