Study shows effect of anti-gay slurs

By Lisa Chung

A study focusing on the effects of anti-gay slurs found the name-calling has a significant effect on both homosexual and heterosexual individuals.

The study, conducted by doctoral candidate in counseling psychology Paul Poteat and professor of educational psychology Dorothy Espelage, determined higher levels of anxiety, depression and personal distress in the subjects after they were exposed to homophobic epithets.

The researchers examined 143 seventh graders and, based on surveys, measured their levels of anxiety, depression, social withdrawal and school-belonging after they were subjected to anti-gay slurs for a one-week period, Poteat said.

The same students were then surveyed the following year. Data concluded that 60 percent felt victimized.

The researchers were not permitted to ask about the students’ sexual orientation but assumed the majority were heterosexuals.

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Although it may be believed that bullying is all a part of growing up, Poteat said there are other ways to build character and discourages bullying as it can be very traumatizing.

“We need to be aware of where this verbal aggression is occurring and start intervening,” he said.

Comments that may potentially be threatening toward certain individuals can be heard while walking through campus, said Curt McKay, director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.

“We tend to not hear about it because most of what people hear are random comments that are anonymous,” McKay said. “I feel like students don’t know what to do in these situations.”

When harassing threats are made, there are ally groups students can turn to for education and support.

“(Ally groups) let students know that hateful behavior doesn’t fit in with the values of the campus,” he said. “We try to provide education that helps people in the LGBT community.”

Ally groups on campus train students to be more understanding and also heighten their awareness of certain LGBT issues, such as verbal issues and terminology, he added.

Veronica Kann, the assistant director of La Casa Cultural Latina, said the center was the first cultural house to offer ally training on a regular basis.

“It’s geared towards understanding the LGBT community within the Latino community,” she said. “It’s ally training from a cultural perspective.”

Still, verbal bullying is something that is prevalent in all schools, McKay said.

“I’ve had LGBT students say that the ‘that’s so gay’ phrase has been so common since middle school that they hardly even notice it now,” he said.

While a national school survey conducted every two years by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network revealed decreasing usage of anti-gay slurs, McKay said little discipline is administered.

“Very often in high schools, nobody does anything,” he said. “It makes me feel like it’s important for staff to do some ally training here on campus.”

Poteat hopes the study will spark schools to educate faculty and students on the effects of verbal bullying.

“Homophobic banter may seem harmless, but in actuality it can carry a number of psychosocial conflicts,” he said. “The key is to intervene to work collectively.”