Anti-gay bullying is a common occurrence in schools across Canada. Although school and community programs to counter it already exist, how effective are they? The answer to this question is the focus of a $2 million, five-year study led by Elizabeth Saewyc, professor of nursing and adolescent medicine at UBC’s School of Nursing.
The study – funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) – is to date the agency’s single largest investment aimed at improving health and school outcomes for sexual minority youth.
“We know from previous research how common stigma and anti-gay bullying is in schools across Canada, and the health problems such violence can lead to,” says Saewyc. “Schools and communities are using a lot of different strategies to try to change this, but very few of these strategies have been evaluated to see not only if they work and how well they work, but why they work,” she says.
She explains that anyone can be affected by homophobia. “In any high school, there are far more heterosexual teens than lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning teens, and because of this, we have found half or more of those targeted for anti-gay harassment actually identify as straight. There isn’t much research about them, but what there is suggests they have the same health consequences as LGBTQ youth who are bullied,” says Saewyc.
Saewyc’s team includes co-investigators from 10 universities – representing seven Canadian provinces and several US states – who will work with ministries of education and health, national teacher and public health associations, school districts, and community programs that work with schools.
Researchers will document and assess the types of strategies that schools currently use to foster connectedness and reduce bullying, and also track trends in health and safety among youth. The team will also study the experiences of heterosexual teens who are harassed because people assume they are gay.