Payne & Smith (2014). QuERI AERA Conference Paper. Philadelphia, PA. LGBTQ Kids, School Safety, and Missing the Big Picture: Why We Need to Re-think LGBTQ Bullying

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Payne & Smith (2014). QuERI AERA Conference Paper. Philadelphia, PA. LGBTQ Kids, School Safety, and Missing the Big Picture: Why We Need to Re-think LGBTQ Bullying
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    1   LGBTQ Kids, School Safety, and Missing the Big Picture: Why We Need to Re-think LGBTQ Bullying " #$%&'( )'(*+$% $, -.+* /0/'( 10* /23#+*.'4 56-$3'(7 89:; 0*< =0>%' ? @A+-. B89:;CD EFGHI J+4*7 @6.$$# @0,'->7 0%4 K+**+%& -.' G+& =+6-2('< L$1 -.' M$A+%0%- G2##>+%& M+*6$2(*' =(')'%-* @6.$$# =($,'**+$%0#* ,($A H.+%N+%& 03$2- @>*-'A+6 K0(&+%0#+O0-+$% $( D D D P.> P' Q''4 -$ R'S-.+%N EFGHI G2##>+%&D ITMD .--/<UUA*2/('**D$(&UV$2(%0#*U+**2'UW+4XY9S8:MSYZM .--/*<UU111D0604'A+0D'42U[\Y:8Y:U=0>%']0%4]@A+-.]89:;]EFGHI]J+4*]@6.$$#]@0,'->]0%4]K+**+%&]-.']G+&]=+6-2(']L$1]-.']M$A+%0%-]G2##>+%&]M+*6$2(*']=(')'%-*]@6.$$#]=($,'**+$%0#*],($A]H.+%N+%&]03$2-]@>*-'A+6]K0(&+%0#+O0-+$%]$(]D]D]D]P.>]P']Q''4]-$]R'-.+%N]EFGHI]G2##>+%&D]=23#+*.'4]+%]ITMD] Elizabethe Payne & Melissa Smith Queering Education Research Institute (QuERI) www.queeringeducation.org AERA Conference April, 2014, Philadelphia, PA *MOST DATA EXCERPTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FOR LENGTH. SEE PUBLISHED PAPER  FOR DATA SUPPORT. In the past few years, bullying as a social phenomenon has gained greater visibility and  become a part of public consciousness as a problem demanding immediate attention. Books on LGBTQ bullying have begun to proliferate—many authored by those without professional experience in schools or a strong social science background in understanding the marginalization of diverse student populations. Anti-bullying laws have been enacted around the country—some specifically naming LGBT students as a protected class—and television talk shows frequently  pontificate on what schools “should” be doing to address the issue. The U.S. Department of Education has hosted bullying summits, further lending credence to particular ways of understanding the problem of in-schools bullying, including the experiences of LGBTQ students. 2  These conversations almost universally focus on LGBTQ students as “victims;” the correlation between victimization and negative psychological, social, and educational outcomes;    2   and the responsibility of schools to protect these vulnerable students from their aggressive, anti-social peers. These public dialogues around in-school harassment and the marginalization of LGBTQ youth reduce the complexities of peer-to-peer aggression to “anti-social behaviour where one student wields power over [a victim],” 3  and conceptualize “the problem of bullying in terms of [the] individual or family pathology” of a singular [aggressive] student. 4  This definition of “the problem” reproduces bullying discourses, which, “are now so accepted . . . in schools that they have gained hegemonic status” 5 (Ringrose & Renold). In other words, bullying discourses have gained so much power in educational contexts and in public consciousness that it has  become practically impossible to understand in-school violence outside “the binary logic of  protection (i.e. ‘victims’ of bullying) and vilification (i.e. pathologising ‘the bully’).” 6  LGBTQ youth are perpetually painted as victims, bullies as “bad kids” with inadequate social skills or abusive homes, and schools as negligent due to their ineffective methods of intervention. This dominant narrative depends on an inaccurate premise: It assumes schools to be neutral sites where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed and that barriers to success appear when individuals’ injurious behavior or attitudes create a “negative” school climate where student safety and belonging are threatened. Understanding schools in this way does not account for institutional heternormativity, which is a fundamental organizational structure through which schools function and the people who occupy school spaces interact with one another. “Framing the notion of bullying in a generic manner by focusing on the individual behavior and relational  power [between individuals], rather than on the specific constructs of difference that underlie incidents of bullying, operates to perpetuate practices that are fostered within the grid of social regularities” 7  (Walton). In other words, the dominant understanding of bullying fails to acknowledge heteronormative social systems of power that support acts of bullying targeted at    3   LGBTQ and gender nonconforming students. Overt acts of violence against LGBTQ youth (or those who are perceived to be) are only the surface-level, explicit effects of heteronormative school cultures that privilege idealized (hetero) gender performances and create social benefits for peer-to-peer policing of nonnormative sexualities and gender expressions. 8  Those who step outside the hegemonic norm are “policed by their peers and denied access to social power and  popularity, while those who do conform are “celebrated.” 9  We must come to understand the  problem of LGBTQ student bullying differently if we are to have different outcomes in our intervention efforts. In this paper, I will very briefly review the issues with the dominant bullying and school climate discourses; the problems with anti-bullying programs, “safe spaces,” “gay days,” and “character education” as solutions; illustrate the ways these interventions limit educators’ abilities to understand the range of aggressions targeting LGBTQ students and to enact change; and, thus, why we need to rethink bullying  . We aim to challenge the taken-for-granted conceptualization of LGBTQ youths’ school experiences and argue for a broader worldview that encompasses cultural systems of power—particularly along lines of gender and sexuality—that  persistently privilege specific groups of youth while marginalizing others. 10  Shifting the definition of “the problem” in this way demands a different understanding of peer-to-peer aggression than that underlying the dominant discourse. It requires recognition of how aggression functions in processes of social positioning and how patterns of youth aggression are reflective of cultural norms for sexuality and gender expression. We propose  gender policing as an alternative framework for understanding peer-to-peer aggression, which draws attention to how normative gender expectations function as tools for targeting peers, as well as the role schools and other cultural institutions play in reproducing strict rules for “normal” gender    4   expression. This framework encompasses many forms of aggression that fall outside bullying discourses, and locates the root issue in a heteronormative and heterosexist culture that is reinforced through the institution and practices of schooling—not in individual aggressive children. 11   Methods The data excerpts utilized in this article to illustrate the ways the dominant bullying discourses and framings of LGBTQ student experience are present in the understandings of K–12 educators are all drawn from QuERI research on our professional development model, the Reduction of Stigma in Schools© (RSIS). RSIS is a research-based professional development program that aims to provide educators with tools and knowledge for creating more affirming school environments for LGBTQ youth. The larger data set consisted of workshop evaluations, semi-structured interviews, and questionnaires completed by past participants of RSIS workshops. Fuller descriptions of the research methods are available in the program design and evaluation papers. 12  Though the educators in this study were interviewed to gain insight into their experiences participating in the RSIS program, all  participants also devoted significant interview time to the “state of things” regarding LGBTQ student experiences and bullying in their respective school contexts. Breaking Down the Bullying Discourse The Construction of “Bullying” Both the popular discourse and the dominant research on bullying reflect cultural myths about who bullies are, what they look like, and whom they target. “The predominant trend in  bullying research, and current interventions arising from that research, tend to conceptualize the  problem of bullying in terms of individual or family pathology” 13 ( Bansel, Davies, Laws, and Linnell). Research on bullying often aims to identify factors that increase students’ risk for engaging in bullying behaviors, and intervention goals designed in light of this research typically involve managing the aggressive behavior and changing the attitudes of students who are identified as bullies. 14  This body of work    is predominantly shaped by a bully/victim binary in which “power is conceptualized mostly as the capacity of an individual student for abusing another who is perceived by the bully as being weaker or deficient in some way.” 15  Students who  bully are also understood as individuals who exhibit anti-social behavior, 18  report low levels of empathy, 19  and/or have been affected by adults (e.g., family members) and other environmental factors (e.g., a violent home) that have inadvertently supported the development of aggressive    5    behavior. 20  These conceptualizations of bullying assume an individual-to-individual relationship  between bully and victim—one child imposes power over another, and the victimized child suffers psychosocial consequences. This binary construction of bullying carries powerful implications for possible interventions: bullies need rehabilitation, victims need protection, and schools can lay blame for the problem outside their walls because the aggressive children bring the problem with them into the school environment. Interpreting LGBTQ bullying in this way severely limits the  possibilities for successful intervention because all the attention is focused on correcting bad  behaviors that individual students learn elsewhere and bring into the school rather than critically examining what exactly the  school   is teaching students about difference and identity, who  belongs and who does not. LGBTQ-Specific Bullying and Harassment The dominant body of research on LGBTQ youths’ school experiences positions this group of students as victims within the bully/victim binary. The central questions unifying this research literature are: In what ways are LGBTQ students “at risk,” and what are the environmental factors that have the potential to alleviate/reduce that risk? The collective findings of these studies draw attention to the negative social and psychological effects LGBTQ students may experience when they are victimized in their school, and they introduce the possibility that stronger support networks (e.g., family, teachers, Gay Straight Alliances) could reduce risk and lead to more positive school experiences for these students.   Understanding “the problem” of LGBTQ student marginalization solely in terms of homophobic and transphobic language and aggression “reflects a shallow understanding of the social processes underpinning these phenomena” and ignores the subtle and complex ways in
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