What Does Gay Mean? A Survey of Latino Parents’ Perspectives on Bullying, Sexual Orientation and Prejudice

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Mental Health America

Executive summary available at http://mentalhealthamerica.net/download.cfm?DownloadFile=AAA548B0-1372-4D20-C827D1B06C3F9730

Despite the fact that 95 percent of Latino parents believe that their teens should get information about sexual and gender orientation from their parents, as opposed to other sources, two-thirds of them haven’t had such conversations with their children, this nationally representative study finds.

The study was part of the nonprofit Mental Health America’s initiative to reduce anti-gay prejudice and bullying, and to promote the mental wellness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth by improving parent-child communication on those topics. The initiative is funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

Investigators with the independent research firm International Communications Research last July interviewed more than 500 Latino parents with children 17 and under. They found that:

• Nearly two-thirds feel it is important for parents to teach their children that it is wrong to treat other people differently because they are gay – meaning that more than one-third disagreed with the idea that such teaching is important.

• Seven in 10 feel only “somewhat,” “not very” or “not at all” prepared to talk with their children about people who are gay.

• If told by their children that a classmate was bullied for being gay, more than one-third of Latino parents said they would talk with their children about the situation; one-third would teach their children how to handle the situation, and about one-quarter would discuss how their children should treat the bullied child.

• More than three-quarters of Latino parents feel it is harmful for children to tease each other about being gay, whether the object of the teasing is actually gay or not.

However, many Latino parents didn’t see such bullying as a common problem. Nearly one-quarter did not recognize that the bullying of gay students occurs at all; nearly half either “did not know” whether such bullying occurs (17 percent), or said it occurs only “occasionally” (17 percent) or “sometimes” (15 percent). Just over one-quarter recognized that such bullying happens “often” (12 percent) or “all the time” (15 percent).

According to federal statistics, nearly one-third of the nation’s public school students reported that they had been bullied at school in 2005. Experts say that perceived or actual homosexuality and gender nonconformity are two of the top three reasons teens are bullied (the third is the victim’s appearance) – increasing those teens’ risks for anxiety disorders, depression and suicide. Studies indicate that LGBT youth are at least twice as likely to attempt suicide as their same-sex peers.

The study’s authors note that LGBT youth of color – so-called “minorities within minorities” – are at a greater risk of bullying due to increased levels of prejudice. According to a survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, LGBT students of color feel less safe at school than do their white LGBT counterparts, specifically because of their race or ethnicity.

“Talking with children about sexual orientation may not be easy, but it will help them learn to better handle situations of bullying and to respect and value others,” Mental Health America CEO David Shern said in a prepared statement.

Contact: Heather Cobb, hcobb@mentalhealthamerica.net, (703) 797-2588.