Pittsburgh summit to address bullying based on sexual orientation

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In recent years, much attention and funding has been put toward anti-bullying programs in school districts throughout the area. As a result, some school officials have reported an increased awareness and a reduction in bullying behavior among students.

But one group is not benefiting from that effort: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, who still face harassment in the hallways.

To address the issue, the Persad Center; the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network; and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays will co-host a Safe Schools summit Jan. 16. The summit will raise the issue of bullying targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students in Pittsburgh schools.

"We want to raise awareness because there is a gap between anti-bullying efforts and this group of kids," said Betty Hill, executive director of the Persad Center.

The summit is the first step in what is expected to be a two-year effort aimed at curbing bullying of gay youth locally. The effort will be hinged on research by two Duquesne University professors, Laura Crothers and Jered Kolbert.

The topic was first broached locally in the spring of 2012 when Pittsburgh city Councilman Bruce Kraus held a post-agenda meeting between school administrators and LBGT students. "The disconnect was so apparent. All of the school people were saying how they were having great success in fighting bullying and all of the people from the gay community said how awful things were for school kids," Ms. Hill said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to attend the Jan. 16 summit, to be held at the Lexus Club at PNC Park, to talk about the city's commitment to end the bullying of gay young people.

The summit will include speakers from the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention hot line for LGBT youth, and the national education network and parents-friends organizations.

Ms. Hill said recent research by the education network shows that 75 percent of students heard negative remarks about their sexual orientation frequently at school and that they are three to four times more likely to attempt and complete suicide.

She said she and her staff hear from local students who attend Persad's after-school tutoring and support program for students 14 and older about the harassment they face regularly at school because of their sexual orientation.

"Our kids change schools a lot to avoid bad situations. It has an impact on them academically. There was one girl who was in a culinary arts program and had no interest in it but was doing it to stay away from her regular school," Ms. Hill said.

LGBT young people are also more prone to run away from home and represent a disproportionate number of the runaway population. "Only 5 percent of the population is LGBT kids, but 30 percent of runaways are LGBT," she said.

Ms. Hill said the Duquesne professors in their preliminary research have found that children don't identify the mean things they say to gay students as bullying because comments about sexual orientation are often not included in anti-bullying programs. "They get it that they shouldn't make fun of obese kids or the kid in a wheelchair, but not the LGBT kids. They don't apply any of their anti-bullying skills to it," Ms. Hill said.

She said she is not sure why school officials are not including LGBT issues in anti-bullying programs, because most curriculums include it.

Ms. Hill said the hope is that the research by the Duquesne professors will provide "more concrete information about what's happening locally."

After the research is completed, the information will be shared with focus groups including area youth, educators, parents and LGBT community service organizations to discuss the findings and explore what efforts will need to be made to stop bullying of the gay community.

"We think it will be at least a two-year effort to build real change. But want to make sure we are doing as good of a job for everybody as we are for some kids," Ms. Hill said.

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Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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