Like any other form of inequity and exclusion, homophobia has negative consequences for an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being. Those of us who are targeted by homophobia feel shame, guilt, powerlessness and fear or terror. We feel violated and voiceless. Hopelessness, broken self-esteem and mental health issues such as depression are further repercussions.
To cope with their feelings and with social rejection or persecution, LGBTQ youth and adults may deny their identity by lying to themselves. Other survival mechanisms aimed at managing painful feelings may include self-harm and self-destructive behaviour such as self-mutilation, cutting oneself and substance abuse. LGBTQ youth may cope with parental rejection by running away, or they may be thrust out of their home, either situation resulting in homelessness. Focusing on the curriculum may be of minimal importance to a young person undergoing such a wrenching personal experience.
Predictably, such confusing and devastating feelings lead to a range of indicators that young people are in difficulty. Teachers may witness such signs as absenteeism, learning difficulties, low academic achievement and high drop-out rates. LGBTQ students may be regularly transferred to different schools, an indication that they have not felt safe in the previous school setting. Or they may engage in violent or aggressive behaviour, a misguided strategy to avoid being targeted by such behaviour. We see the most tragic end result of homophobia in higher rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth.
Not being “out”, hiding one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, are both impacts and indicators of homophobia. If there are no openly LGBTQ students in a high school, it’s an indicator that students do not feel sufficiently safe to express their identity publicly. The number of LGBTQ students who are out can be seen as a litmus test indicating how much work a school has done in supporting the rights of these students.
Teachers can become allies of LGBTQ students by digging deeper, beyond the negative labels. Placing indicators of student distress in the larger social context is a starting point.
- What other consequences of Homophobia can I identify?
- How has homophobia had an impact on my personal development and my life?
- What manifestations of homophobia have I seen (or experienced) in my school?
- What are some small steps I could take in my own life (e.g. personal and professional interactions) to more evenly share my power and privilege as a straight person (if that is my identity)?
- What kinds of strategies can I identify (or have I implemented in my school) that can facilitate the healthy development of young people’s sexual orientation and gender identity?