The introduction of a voter referendum in California in 2008 that limited marriage to heterosexual couples, known as Proposition 8, increased the rate of homophobic bullying among youth in the state, according to findings published in Pediatrics.
“Biased-based bullying is common among youth — with some estimates as high as 40% — and is more strongly associated with adverse outcomes that bullying unrelated to bias,” Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “However, few studies have identified predictors of bias-based bullying, particularly at the contextual and/or ecological levels.”
The researchers analyzed data from 14 consecutive waves of the California Healthy Kids Survey, a cross-sectional survey of almost 5 million California children. Responses were aggregated on a school level (n = 5,121). Using these data, the researchers compared rates of homophobic bullying before and after Proposition 8, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.
Hatzenbuehler and colleagues identified the 2008-2009 school year as a “turning point” in homophobic bullying. The rate of homophobic bullying increased (P < .001) and then accelerated in the years just before the Proposition 8 vote (P < .001). After the referendum was passed, the rate of homophobic bullying slowly decreased (P < .05).
The same trends in bias-based bullying were not observed for students who were bullied for their race and/or ethnicity, religion or gender unrelated to their sexual orientation.
According to the researchers, schools with gay-straight alliances — or “school-based clubs focused on improving the school climate for LGBT youth” — offered children some protection against homophobic bullying before Proposition 8.
Voter referenda often target LGBTQ populations in the United States, but some campaigns also focus on immigration, criminal justice and black communities, terrorism and Islamophobia, and the use of bathrooms for transgender individuals, according to the researchers.
“Although further research is needed to identify contextual determinants of bias-based bullying related to each of these stigmatized statuses, our results provide evidence that public campaigns communicating stigma against particular groups may confer risk for bias-based bullying among youth and suggest that the public health consequences of such frequent campaigns on common forms of peer aggression may be more wide ranging than previously realized,” they wrote. – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.