GSA and CAFE Address Homophobia In Light of Recent Suicides of Bullied Teens

Andover’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and Community Awareness For Everyone (CAFÉ) hosted a forum on bullying and homophobia this past Monday. In light of the recent suicides of six gay teenagers, CAFÉ board members felt the forum was pertinent, especially because each suicide occurred as the result of bullying. Approximately 35 students attended the forum. At the meeting, students divided into three smaller groups. Each group had two board members acting as facilitators to guide the discussions. Following the small discussions, the students reconvened to share their responses. Some questions brought up during the final group discussion included “Why are so many suicides occurring now,” and “What would you do if you saw someone being bullied because of their sexual orientation?” Students at the forum concluded that homophobia primarily stems from parents, siblings and the media. The group struggled to find a concrete reason for the recent increase in suicides related to sexual orientation. One proposed theory was that homosexuals have been “coming out” at an earlier age. The group speculated that immaturity among younger children can cause teasing and bullying. Students also discussed the effect of gender stereotypes on youth. Members of CAFÉ talked about how gay males are targeted by bullying more than lesbian females. They decided this was because boys feel the pressure to be “manly.” Attendees of the forum felt that there is a double standard for “acceptable behavior” for the two genders because girls are typically seen as more “touchy-feely.” Girls can hold hands or put their arms around each other without raising any eyebrows, however, the same would be socially unacceptable for boys. Margot Pinckney ’11, Co-Head of GSA, said, “The topic was not chosen for the forum. Instead, the forum was created to address an issue that desperately needed attention.” Jenn Kroon ’13 said, “It was a great eye-opener.” Kroon said she felt the meeting was very personal and made issues faced by homosexuals more tangible through personal stories. Samantha Peloquin ’12 said the forum provided “various insights and personal understanding of the topics.” “Taking a step back and looking at our actions and those of people around us, it makes you think about the effect that what you say has on others,” she continued. Pinckney said, “Many would think that such an issue as bullying or depression and suicide might not apply to a school like Andover. But in such a stressful academic and social environment, the last thing an Andover student needs is the added pressure of their peers criticizing and teasing them for their sexual preference. The Andover community is often considered very accepting and diverse, but the same issues exist here.” “At Andover, there are still pockets of ignorance, intolerance, and even homophobia. The topics apply because the problems exist here just as they do elsewhere,” she continued. Kroon said, “Eventually, we are going to leave Andover. The whole world is not like this. It’s important to be educated [about these issues].” Ben Talarico ’11, a member of GSA, suggested that CAFÉ hold a forum on the issue of bullying and homophobia. Talarico said, “The community needed to discuss this topic. I feel that it is our responsibility to recognize and acknowledge these issues.”