Friday, December 14, 2012

The Plight of LGBT Teens in Rural Areas

Some years back I traveled to Martinsville, Virginia (in Southwest Virginia) for the work I was doing in Moore v. Virginia Museum of Natural History and quickly came to think that being gay and living in that area would make the idea of razor blades to one's wrists looks rather attractive.  Martinsville is not only backwards in just about every way imaginable but it is also more than an hour's drive from anyplace that would be considered remotely gay friendly.  Sadly, Martinsville is too representative of much of rural America where ignorance and bigotry are proudly embraced, especially from the overly abundant Baptist church pulpits.  A new study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) looks at the plight of LGBT youth living in such areas.  The report can be accessed here.  Here are some of the findings:

Nearly all LGBT students in rural areas have heard homophobic, racist, sexist, and negative gender expression-based remarks. Furthermore, students in rural areas more frequently experienced derogatory comments than students in suburban and urban schools. For example:

 • 97% of rural LGBT students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) sometimes, often, or frequently in school. 94% heard other homophobic language (“dyke” or “faggot”) sometimes, often, or frequently.

 • 86% heard comments from students about someone not acting “masculine” enough sometimes, often, or frequently, and 69% heard such comments about students not acting “feminine” enough sometimes, often, or frequently.

 • A quarter or more of students also had heard school staff make homophobic remarks (25%), sexist remarks (30%), or negative remarks about someone’s gender expression (35%) sometimes, often, or frequently.

 • Rural students were more likely than suburban or urban students to hear most types of biased language, including homophobic remarks and negative comments about gender expression. Rural LGBT students reported that school staff members and students rarely intervened when biased comments were heard.

 • Only 13% of rural LGBT students said staff members intervened most or all of the time when homophobic comments were made, and only 11% said that staff members intervened most or all of the time when negative comments were made about gender expression.

 • Only 6% of students said that other students intervened most of the time or always when they heard homophobic remarks, and 5% said that about comments regarding gender expression.

 • Students in rural schools reported lower student and school staff intervention in homophobic remarks than suburban students.

A majority of rural LGBT students had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, and substantial numbers had experienced more severe physical harassment and physical assault because of these characteristics. Furthermore, although LGBT students across the country experienced harassment and abuse, students in rural areas were more frequently victimized than students in suburban and urban areas.

There is much, much more in the report and little of it is positive.  It underscores the reality that many in large progressive cities have no idea how horrible life can be for those of us in so-called red states, especially in rural backwaters like Martinsville and similar towns and cities across America.  Fueling all of the abuse and hate, of course are the "godly Christians" who believe they have the special right to torment and stigmatize anyone who doesn't conform to their backward, flat earth thinking.   The irony is that then these areas wonder why no new businesses and industries want to relocate to their regions.  Not surprisingly, Martinsville has one of the highest unemployment rates in Virginia.

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