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A new study shows Latino parents’ views on bullying, sexual orientation and prejudice. Qué Significa Ser Gay?

Mental Health America released results from a national study of Latino parents to better understand parent-child communication about bullying, sexual orientation and prejudice.

The findings coincide with the release of a new Spanish-language brochure, “Qué Significa Ser Gay?,” part of Mental Health America’s ongoing efforts to reduce bullying, particularly regarding sexual orientation.

“Bullying and the use of gay slurs in schoolyards and communities are far too common in America,” said David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. “It has serious effects on children’s self-esteem, schoolwork and overall development. 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.”

In 2005, nearly one-third of students reported being bullied at school during a 6-month period, according to the Department of Education.

The Sex Information and Education Council of the United States found that perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identification are two of the top three reasons youth in America are bullied. Young people who are bullied are at an increased risk of mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and suicide.

LGBT youth are at even greater risk.

Studies on youth suicide rates and sexual orientation consistently show that LGBT youth are at least two times more likely than their same-sex peers to attempt suicide.

More prejudice about LGBT issues abounds in communities of color, and LGBT youth within these communities represent a “minority within a minority,” putting them at even greater risk of being bullied.

In fact, LGBT students of color feel less safe at school than white LGBT students because of their race or ethnicity (16.6% versus 3.8%), according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Almost a quarter of these students experience physical harassment due to their sexual orientation alone, and 13.2% due to both their sexual orientation and race or ethnicity.

“Young people of color who are bullied for sexual orientation or gender identification are not only at risk of bullying, assault and isolation, but they are at risk for problems such as depression, school failure and suicide,” said Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, M.D., Ph.D., board chair of Mental Health America. “All of these problems are preventable in part through improved parent-child communication.”

Key findings from the “What Does Gay Mean?: A Survey of Latino Parents’ Perspectives on Bullying, Sexual Orientation and Prejudice” include the following:

  • Nearly all of Latino parents believe it is important that their children get information about sexual orientation directly from them (95%).
  • Two-thirds have not started such conversations with their children.
  • Most Latino parents have not started conversations on sexual orientation (64%). Likewise, only a quarter of children initiate these conversations with their parents (26%).
  • 70% feel somewhat, not very or not at all prepared to talk with their children about people who are gay.
  • 63% feel it is important for parents to teach their children that it is wrong to treat other people differently because they are gay.
  • If told by their child that a classmate was bullied for being gay, over one-third would talk with their child about the situation (35%), a third would teach their child how to handle the situation (34%) and about a quarter would discuss how they should treat the bullied child (23%).
  • Age had an impact on how parents would handle a situation if their child told them a classmate was bullied because of sexual orientation. Parents aged 45 to 54 were significantly more likely than older or younger parents to talk with their kids about the situation and explain that bullying is wrong.

Key Findings: Impact of Bullying

  • Nearly a quarter of Latino parents do not recognize that bullying of gay students happens at all (22%). Fifty-nine percent of parents recognized bullying of gay students happens in their child’s school: 17% say it happens occasionally, 15% feel it happens sometimes, 12% think it happens often and 15% say it happens all the time. Seventeen percent simply do not know if it happens.
  • Over three-quarters of Latino parents feel it is harmful for children to tease each other for being gay – whether or not they are gay (76%).

Mental Health America is the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives.