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Political divisiveness can cause an increase in homophobic bullying

Divisive partisan climates can cause an increase in homophobic bullying. But one school initiative was found to prevent and combat homophobic bullying – i.e. the formation of gay-straight alliance clubs.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.com

Divisive partisan climates can cause an increase in homophobic bullying. This is according research Dr. Yishan Shen, an assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Texas State University at Austin.

According to Shen – whose research group was headed by Stephen Russell, chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas – being a teenager is hard enough, but Dr. Yishan Shen, an assistant professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Texas State University, has uncovered additional challenges for youths between 10 and 19 who are targets of bullying during contentious political campaigns.

While examining data from the California Healthy Kids Survey gathered before a 2008 referendum known as Proposition 8, Shen found what she described as an “odd peak of homophobic bullying in 2008.”

Shen reported the trend to Russell, whose laboratory she joined as a graduate student at UT in 2015 to expand her scholarship to other minority and marginalized groups. Russell dubbed Shen’s finding as “The Prop 8 Effect”, in a reference to attitudes about a California ballot initiative intended to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. They continued studying the topic, with their findings published as Proposition 8 and Homophobic Bullying in California in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers determined that secondary school students reported “significantly more” homophobic bullying as the Prop 8 vote was approaching, but less after the Prop 8 vote. 

The researchers tried running different statistical analyses to see if there are other possible explanations, like the economic or ethnic makeup of the schools, but after controlling for each of these variables, the same pattern was observed, thereby leading them to conclude that the increase in rates of bullying was associated with Prop 8.

 One school initiative was found to prevent and combat homophobic bullying in their study – the formation of gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs. 

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