Today, our guests are Steven Hobaica, a Clinical Psychologist specializing in LGBTQ+ health, and Jason Roberts, an Acting Crisis Prevention Specialist with the Hawaii Department of Education.  They spoke about bullying and its impact on our LGBTQ+ youth, in what way schools are addressing it, and how the Department of Education is taking care of the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our youth in the process.  Steven joined us via zoom.

“We know that LGBTQ+ youth experience more bullying than their peers, with over 50% of LGBTQ+ youth report experiencing verbal, electronic, and/or sexual harassment, often directly related to their identity. In addition, over 20% report physical harassment and over 10% report physical assault. We also know that these students rarely come forward and report these experiences because of fears that they will be invalidated, not believed, or that it will only worsen the situation, which is valid, as most that have come forward report that the problem was not successfully mitigated. These bullying experiences lead to a variety of problems for LGBTQ+ youth, including worsened mental health, like depression, anxiety, and suicidality, as well as worsened school performance, evidenced by poorer grades, less interest in school, decreased attendance, and switching schools. At the school and district level, I strongly encourage teachers and administrators to review bullying policy and make sure it is clear and inclusive of LGBTQ+ students. Most frequently, policy is general or does not specifically include transgender and gender diverse students. I also encourage this policy to be reviewed with students and parents frequently, possibly once per year. Additionally, I encourage teachers to intervene when bullying occurs and to identify themselves as a safe person and ally for LGBTQ+ students. It’s also important to make LGBTQ+ materials and people visible, which can be achieved with flyers, posters, ally pins, rainbow lanyards, safe space signals, that sort of thing.”

Jason was asked specifically about policies and procedures that are in place to report and address bullying incidents involving LGBTQ students.

“The Department is committed to ensuring all schools are safe, inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all students by eliminating all discrimination, harassment, and bullying.  In this effort, there are a plethora of federal and state non-discrimination laws, and the Department implements Board of Education (BOE) policies that prohibit discrimination, bullying and harassment. The DOE implements “Social & Emotional Learning” which helps people empathize with others and celebrate the differences that make us unique. This kind of support is critical for members of marginalized groups, like students who identify as LGBTQ+.  There are three essential components to do this which includes:

-Safety—We know that safety at school is important for all students, and it is particularly important for LGBTQ+ students who may not feel safe in settings that are less accepting.

-Relationships—Positive teacher-student relationships are associated with increased student engagement, attendance, and achievement.

-Coping skills—Helping students develop coping skills for managing thoughts and emotions lays the groundwork for developing healthy behaviors in response to stress, nurturing supportive relationships, and cultivating the skills necessary to fulfill their potential.

“While the Department recognizes that laws, policies, and systems can only do so much, we have to do what we do best, and that is educate.  Schools play a vital role in the development of students’ well-being, and it is important that we continue to work collaboratively with all students, families, and community partners.”

For more information visit https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/Pages/Home.aspx        

Individuals in need of crisis or mental health support services can call Hawai‘i CARES for free 24/7 support at 1-800-753-6879 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting ALOHA to 741741. For more information about children’s mental health services, visit https://health.hawaii.gov/camhd/.