A recent study in Montreal on the effects of bullying on gay teens has a shocking conclusion: anti-gay bullying negatively impacts the well-being of gay people. I know that this feels like common sense… but now it is also a scientific fact, which is unfortunately necessary in a world where so many like to imagine that gay people will disappear if they never ever think about them ever.
The research came out of Concordia University, where the study began in 2003 – well before the rash of suicides in the US this fall, confirming that gay bullying has been a longtime problem. Michael Benibgui, who was then completing his doctorate thesis, conducted the study using interview material and saliva samples from 63 opt-in participants.
In his analysis, Benibgui found that the cortisone levels for his participants were irregular. Cortisone is a hormone released to reduce stress; levels are typically higher in the morning and low in the evening. The study participants, however, had high cortisone levels throughout the day as a result of facing harassment, violence, and rejection for being out.
So what does this mean?
Well, it means that anti-gay bullying has biological effects. (High cortisol output can cause memory loss, cardiovascular problems, bone-density depletion, and suicide.) And it means that anti-gay bullying is no longer something we can disregard as a “growing pain.” Bullying is no longer just something that makes gay people feel bad at school: it has a proven, profound effect on the lives of gay people and has emotional, mental, and physical consequences. Anti-gay pundits can’t argue that it’s not real if its effects are scientifically measurable, and as the Prop 8 trial showed us, quantifiable evidence of our second-class citizen status is immensely useful when trying to change that status in court.
As Benibgui best put it, the study essentially proved that “homophobia is bad for your health.” It represents the first scientific proof of a biological link between homophobia and its consequences.
“Compared to their heterosexual peers, suicide rates are up to 14 times higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual high school and college students. Depression and anxiety are widespread. To learn why this occurs, we studied the physiological impact of homophobic social environments on a group of healthy young LGB adults.”
What Benibgui found is extremely valuable. THIS DATA IS A SCIENTIFIC REASON TO CHALLENGE HOMOPHOBIA, VIOLENCE, AND HARASSMENT, EVERYONE. This is a big deal! Benibgui isn’t the first researcher to come up with data confirming that bullying is a problem – a recent report in the Journal of Homosexuality called for violence against and the mental health of queer teens and adults to become a national priority. But that was backed up by sociological data, and horrible as it is, there will always be people for whom that’s not “real.” Saliva samples are gross, but also “hard science.”
Hopefully, his research will inspire action in communities within and beyond Montreal to improve the lives – and futures – of queer people everywhere.