In ‘Heterosexism in High School and Victimization Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Students’, Daniel Chesir-Teran and Diane Hughes examine setting-level predictors of anti-LGBQ harassment and victimization experiences in schools. They conceive heterosexism as “a systematic process of privileging heterosexuality relative to homosexuality” (p. 964). This includes the absence of harassment and non-discrimination policies and inclusive programs, and the presence of overt hostility. (p. 964)
Chesir-Teran and Hughes examine the relationships between perceived manifestations of school policies, programs and social domains, and personal victimization experiences among LGBQ students.
Study results showed:
- Perceived programs and policies were positively though moderately correlated (reflecting distinct experiences).
- Perceived harassment and victimization experiences were only moderately correlated (again reflecting distinct experiences).
- Programs and policies were significantly and negatively associated with perceived harassment
- Personal experiences were negatively correlated with perceived programs, but not with perceived policies. (p. 968)
It is understandable that perceptions of non-discrimination and harassment policies and inclusive programs would be correlated, as students might view programs as an extension of policies, that is, a policy put into practice. Therefore, if students were reporting more inclusive policies, they would naturally report more supportive programs.
I hypothesized that students would look primarily to their own victimization experiences when assessing perceived harassment and that perceived victimization experiences and perceived harassment would be significantly correlated as a result. However, once the authors pointed out “perception might result from an awareness of harassment against others or the view that their own victimization experience was a rare occurrence” (p. 965) it stood to reason that these two measures could be moderately correlated.
I predicted that programs and policies would be significantly and negatively associated with perceived harassment, as I believe that student perception of these two domains significantly impacts their social environment. If the student body believes that the school espouses an inclusive environment, then they are more likely to behave in a manner that supports this. As the authors point out, even if the study findings are inconclusive, the perceived inclusiveness of programs may empower students to openly support the LGBQ community in their school (p. 971), which could further support their perception that harassment is not tolerated.
It follows that personal experiences would be negatively correlated with perceived programs, but not with perceived policies. Students are more likely to be directly involved with programs than policies, and would therefore attribute their personal victimization experiences to the presence or absence of perceived inclusive programs; not to policies that are distal in nature, and about which they may know little.
It has been my experience that knowledge of a policy enhances my understanding of its purpose, and the likelihood of my support of it. I believe that it would serve schools well to educate students on how inclusive programs are supported by school policies and how together these create a social environment that does not tolerate anti-LGBQ harassment. In turn, this could serve to further reduce victimization experiences.
hesir-Teran, D., & Hughes, D. (2009). Heterosexism in high school and victimization among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 963-975.