1. In this retrospective cohort study, researchers discovered an increase in homophobic bullying prior to passage of Proposition 8 – a law in California which restricted marriage to heterosexuals – correlating with the time during which media and public campaigns about the law were prevalent.
2. The presence of a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) organization in schools was a protective factor against homophobic bullying, significantly decreasing the rates of homophobic bullying prior to passage of the bill.
Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)
Study Rundown: Bullying is a widespread issue associated with negative long term physical and psychological outcomes from youths who experience it. Adolescents of a sexual minority are at increased risk for being bullied. Still, little is known about what larger ecological factors may affect the rates of homophobic bullying. In this retrospective cohort study, researchers explored whether the rates of homophobic bullying increased before and after the passage of Proposition 8 in California, a law which restricted marriage to between homosexuals. Researchers found that rates of bullying increased significantly prior to the passage of the law, during which time much media and public attention was focused on the bill, which did ultimately pass. Additionally, researchers found that the presence of a GSA organization in a school was protective against this increase in bullying surrounding the time preceding the bill, decreasing the rate of homophobic bullying in those schools which had a GSA. Though the study population was limited to one state, the results critically highlight both the impact of widespread social campaigns on the individual well-being of at-risk youths as well as confirm the importance of identity-affirming organizations in preventing such mistreatment.
According to senior author Stephen T. Russell, “A few prior US studies have shown that voter referenda that promote stigma (e.g., propositions to limit marriage to heterosexuals) are linked to health for adults at the population level. We often think that these public debates don’t matter for youth – our study shows the connection between such a referenda (prop 8 in California) and bias-based bullying among youth. Because we know bullying is linked to many mental health and behavior problems for youth, clinicians can be attuned to the social climate of youth, and assess for experiences of harassment or bullying.”
Stephen T. Russell
Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor in Child Development
Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
Population Research Center
University of Texas at Austin
In-Depth [retrospective cohort]: In this study, researchers utilized data from the California Healthy Kids Survey, specifically focusing on data from the 2001-2002 academic year to the 2014-2015 academic year and included the majority of secondary schools in California. Students response rate was >70% on average, with 4,977,557 students ultimately included. The survey included questions both about bullying related to sexual orientation and about the presence of a GSA in schools. Proposition 8 was passed during the 2008-2009 academic year, and rates in bullying were assessed before and after this time point. Using interrupted time series analysis, researchers found a statistically significant uptrend in the prevalence of homophobic bullying in the years leading up to the proposition vote (blinear = 1.15; p <.001). Schools where students reported the presence of a GSA had a smaller increase in the rate of bullying than schools that did not report the presence of a GSA (bintercept = -2.50, p <.001; blinear = -0.58, p <.01). Rates of bullying based on race and/or ethnicity (blinear = 21.04, p < .001), religion (bquadratic = 20.03; p <.05), and gender (blinear = 20.11; p <.001) all decreased before the passage of Proposition 8.
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