No matter the goal of a school club, all of them strive to push students to achieve a greater purpose. Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in some Canadian schools could be going a step further, though, by promoting tolerance and creating bonds that ultimately lead to safer school environments and a reduced number of suicide attempts. The best part: A new study shows that they work.
Led entirely by students, GSAs encourage anyone who identifies as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) heterosexual, or questioning to join. Their goal is to make schools a safe environment for everyone. About one in four students say that they’ve been bullied at school and even fewer have been cyberbullied, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). LGBTQ youth, however, are at a heightened risk for any type of bullying, and about 55.2 percent say that they have been bullied online.
“We know that LGBTQ students are at a higher risk for suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study and professor at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing, in a press release. “But heterosexual students can also be the target of homophobic bullying. When policies and supportive programs like GSAs are in place long enough to change the environment of the school, it’s better for students’ mental health, no matter what their orientation.”
The study looked at more than 21,000 students in grades eight through 12, and involved students who went to schools that had instituted anti-homophobic bullying policies, GSA’s, or neither. In schools with GSAs, discrimination toward LGBTQ students fell by more than half. Heterosexual students also experienced less discrimination, and boys were half as likely to attempt suicide. Schools with anti-bullying policies in place also saw a reduction in suicide thoughts and attempts — more than 70 percent for boys and about 66 percent for girls.
The findings, which were published in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies, offer a potential solution to LGBTQ discrimination, especially as it continues to capture attention in the U.S. Despite bullying legislation in 49 states, 70.6 percent of students and 70.4 percent of school staff report that they’ve seen someone being bullied, according to the HHS. Current prevention strategies look to parents, school staff, and the community to encourage acceptance, tolerance, and respect.
Children who are bullied must overcome challenges beyond suicidal thoughts. A recent report found that about 90,000 children visit the emergency room each year due to bullying injuries. Aside from that, studies have also found that they’re more likely to smoke, develop psychiatric disorders, or become physically ill. But putting an end to bullying isn't only about helping the victims. Studies have also shown that bullies themselves are three times more likely to suffer depression and anxiety. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to instill respect, acceptance, and tolerance.
Source: Saewyc E, Konishi C, Rose H, Homma Y. School-based Strategies to Reduce Suicidal Ideation, Suicide Attempts, And Discrimination Among Sexual Minority And Heterosexual Adolescents In Western Canada. International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies. 2014.