… In Illinois, at least. And probably lots of other places.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a report Wednesday showing that LGBT students in Illinois face an alarming level of harassment, both physical and verbal, at school.

Inside Illinois Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students surveyed 206 Illinois students about the level of harassment they receive in school, how much they skip school for being harassed, and how their grades are affected by this harassment.

The report showed that 89 percent of Illinois LGBT students experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation in the past year, 43 percent said they had been physically harassed and 21 percent said they had been physically assaulted.

Is this a job for hate crime laws?


  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    June 23, 2009

    There are some possibly complicating factors here. I suspect that the fraction of youth are harassed using statements about orientation is very high among the non-LGBT youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if close to 89% of the non-LGBT youth have been called “gay” or “queer” simply as insults. I don’t know therefore if all of the 89% of the LGBT are actually experiencing harassment due to their orientation. The substantial effect is likely the same on the LGBT youths but for trying to understand how to get this sort of thing to stop we need a better understanding of what is triggering the behavior.

  2. #2 Jason Thibeault
    June 23, 2009

    When I was growing up, I noticed one particular tactic that a bully would use is to throw out as many insults as he/she could until one struck a nerve. It wouldn’t surprise me if, given the prevalence of the use of “gay”, “fag” and “queer” as an insult amongst youths, and not just limited to insulting boys (I’m sure this is still being used today in the same manner), those kids that are in fact homosexual would likely have a different reaction to being called such than other kids, being that it is indeed striking a nerve. And thus the bullies learn that “fag” works against a particular kid, and the habit is reinforced.

  3. #3 sailor
    June 23, 2009

    Come on guys, the things you mention above may have some validity, but are most unlikely to be anywhere near whole story. Kids are brutal – they target anyone who is not like them. Gay kids who keep it completely hidden still feel a terrible tearing, because of how they see member of their group get treated.
    I think this is a matter for some decent teachers rather than the police.

  4. #4 Jackal
    June 23, 2009

    Ahem. The very fact that “gay,” “fag,” and “queer” are insults is a big part of the problem. When a bully calls anyone a “fag,” they are hurting every homosexual student in the community, not just the target of their harassment. They are saying that homosexuality is a source of shame, normalizing that bigotry for other kids, and alienating homosexuals. It needs to stop.

  5. #5 Jason Thibeault
    June 23, 2009

    I agree completely that it needs to stop, given what I know of the hardship some gay relatives and friends had to deal with growing up. I can’t imagine how rough it must be for those words to be slung around so casually.

    So, maybe it’s because it keeps working, that the behaviour keeps getting reinforced? Perhaps a two-pronged approach — education at an early age that difference isn’t bad, and that words hurt, as well as education that when someone calls you a name, you have to let it roll off your back somehow so that the bully doesn’t get the endorphin rush of successfully hurting someone using their words?

    The only problem that would leave is the all too common use in older folks, and kids sure do love to emulate their older siblings and role models.

    We should perhaps tackle this like an epidemiologist would a virus — because that’s exactly what those insults are like, mind viruses. Once someone realizes it works, it enters their repertoire, then someone else hears it and it enters THEIRS, etc, etc.

  6. #6 khan
    June 23, 2009

    Yes, those that are or are perceived to be homosexual are subject to bullying, and it is horrible. But it is only a part of the bullying of anyone perceived as ‘different’.

    I barely survived that high school “let’s attack the nerds gays ugly” shit.

  7. #7 becca
    June 23, 2009

    I know at least one homosexual girl from Illinois who missed 100% of high school; harassment being a big part of it (the rest can maybe be chalked up to my influence *evil grin*). But homeschooling is a bad word, right?

    Also, dudes, I was a fat geeky crybaby and I still didn’t get hassled like she did. This is not “kids get harassed” or even “kids that are different get harassed” level. This is “being the only black kid in a class circa 1965”. Or at least what I saw was.
    And Illinois is still great compared to Indiana 😉

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    June 23, 2009

    On top of Becca’s point, a lot of these kids have no one at home to go to for sympathy. They often don’t find it in school teachers’ or administrators’ offices either.

  9. #9 Joel
    June 24, 2009

    The thing about being gay and being harassed is that nearly everywhere you look there are people you know, don’t know, respect, and don’t respect who reinforce the idea that you are truly a deviant, abhorrent, sick, perverted, abomination. It’s not simply being called a fag. It’s the confirmation from nearly everywhere and everyone that you are one sick mother fucker.

  10. #10 Bill James
    June 24, 2009

    Is this a job for hate crime laws?

    Why don’t we simply apply the law we already have?

    Verbal and physical harassment, assault, those bases are covered. Nothing special needed. Unless people want to be considered special and so treated.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    June 24, 2009

    Bill, this is not the place for threats. Not that anyplace is, but seriously.

  12. #12 Michael Spencer
    June 24, 2009

    Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

    But I DO think that hate laws are the wrong direction. The issue of motivation is currently, and rightly, covered in the sentencing phase.

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    June 24, 2009

    Michael, if these kids aren’t supported and protected by their own parents and the adults in school, why do we think judges will be different?

  14. #14 JohnV
    June 24, 2009

    Well if you don’t think judges are going to do their jobs and enforce existing laws, will making more laws for the same judges to not enforce make a difference?

  15. #15 Jason Thibeault
    June 24, 2009

    Of all the anecdotes I have available to me, relatives and friends specifically, none of them were out of the closet. By not being out of the closet, while some people suspected (and one friend was as close to out as you can get short of actually telling us), nobody really focused on them being gay specifically, but it was the casual use of the epithets that likely kept them in the closet for the duration of grade school.

    And in too many of those cases, when they came out to their parents, huge rifts formed. I only hope this generation will be more tolerant of their children than the last.

  16. #16 Joel
    June 24, 2009

    The issue of motivation is currently, and rightly, covered in the sentencing phase.

    While premeditated murder will get you a greater sentence than manslaughter, seems to me motivation is used to determine what you crime you committed, more than what sentence you receive.

    The purpose of hate crimes legislation is to send the message that as a society, we will not tolerate this kind of activity and we consider this kind of activity completely unacceptable.

    Relying on existing laws does not answer the problem.

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    June 24, 2009

    JohnV, depending on the law, and this post is part of a more general discussion of federal hate crimes legislation, it may change who the judges are.

  18. #18 marilove
    June 24, 2009

    “The issue of motivation is currently, and rightly, covered in the sentencing phase.”

    Oh, I see! I guess we don’t have different levels of murder, or assault … oh, wait. We do.

  19. #19 Bill James
    June 24, 2009

    Stephanie responding to post #10: Bill, this is not the place for threats. Not that anyplace is, but seriously.

    That my comment could be misconstrued as threatening is nothing more than a fertile figment of your imagination.

    On what basis otherwise do you make such accusations?


  20. #20 Stephanie Z
    June 24, 2009

    Unless people want to be considered special and so treated.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    In this discussion, Bill, it doesn’t take much imagination, just empathy. And maybe a little bit of memory.

    Explain your own damned self.

  21. #21 Robert
    June 25, 2009

    That my comment could be misconstrued as threatening is nothing more than a fertile figment of your imagination.

    I think you mean “figment of a fertile imagination”

  22. #22 Bill James
    June 25, 2009

    In response to Stephanie #20

    So we are to believe the root of your baseless accusation was empathy as you cite another non-threatening post of mine as an example? Seriously?

    I’ve already stated that your accusation is nothing more than a fertile figment of your imagination. What have you said to refute that?

    The equivalent of nothing.

    You have purposefully mis-characterized my advocation that people “be careful what they wish for” as making threats, then tell me to go “explain my own damn self?”


    Your reasoning is not held in evidence although I suspect it may be irrational.

  23. #23 Bill James
    June 25, 2009

    To Robert at post #21:

    I realize that turning the phrase around as you have is the more recognized classic, although I did intend to say “fertile figment” thus narrowing the scope of fertile. As to the rest of imagination? Let’s leave that open for the time being. But yes, I could have went either way with that.

    Best Regards;


  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    June 25, 2009

    Shorter Bill: I don’ wanna tell you what I mean.