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Blais, M., Gervais, J., Hebert, M. (2014). Internalized homophobia as a partial mediator between homophobic bullying and self-esteem among youths of sexual minorities in Quebec (Canada). Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 19, 727–735.

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Results from studies conducted in the USA and Canada have shown that homophobic bullying is widespread among sexual minority youths. Up to 87% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans identified, or questioning (LGBTQ) youths have been victims of at least one form of homophobic bullying. Although homophobic bullying can take various forms (e.g. psychological or verbal, physical, sexual, etc.), some studies have suggested that psychological or verbal bullying is the most common form of homophobic bullying. Among LGBQ senior high school students, humiliation and/or teasing, damage to reputation, and exclusion and/or rejection are the three most common forms of homophobic bullying. Many studies suggest that sexual minority boys are more likely to report verbal homophobic bullying compared to their female counterparts. As they get older, youths tend to report lower rates of both physical and verbal homophobic bullying. As a consequence of bullying, youths may experience a feeling of exclusion and a deterioration of their perceived relational value, resulting in lower self-esteem. LGBT reporting homophobic bullying are more likely to report lower self-esteem. Lower self-esteem has been associated to physical dating violence victimization among males, suicidal ideation, suicidal attempt, and criminal convictions.

Method: Data for this study was drawn from the Quebec Youths’ Romantic Relationships survey. This survey was given to 300 youths aged 14 to 22 through a web-based survey targeting Quebec LGBTQ youths. Trans identity was defined using the following item: When their sex at birth and their gender identity (sense of belonging to one sex) do not match. Psychological/verbal homophobic bullying was based on the Chamberland et al. study. The question was: During the last 6 months, how frequently did you experience the following situations because people think that you might be gay/lesbian/bisexual or trans or because you are gay/lesbian/bisexual or trans? Three forms of homophobic bullying were covered: exclusion and rejection, humiliation, and damage to the reputation. Self-esteem was evaluated with four items from the Self-Description Questionnaire. Participants had to choose the answer that best describes how they feel concerning the following statements: Overall, I have a lot to be proud of, in general, I like myself the way I am, I like the way I look, and when I do something, I do it well. Response options were: False (0), mostly false (1), sometimes false/sometimes true (2), mostly true (3), and true (4). Internalized homophobia was measured with four items from the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity Scale. The four items were: I would rather be straight if I could, I wish I were heterosexual, I am glad to be an LGB person, and my life would be more fulfilling if I were heterosexual. The response options were: strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), somewhat disagree (3), somewhat agree (4), agree (5), strongly agree (6).

Results: 73.7% of the participants described themselves as homosexual, 15.3% as bisexual, 7.7% as predominantly heterosexual attraction, and 3.3% as unsure. 13% of the participants identified themselves as transgender. About half of the participants suffered from damage to reputation or reported at least one episode of humiliation, and a third has felt excluded or rejected. Sixty-one percent of the sample reported at least one form of verbal/psychological homophobic bullying. Among youths who reported at least one episode of homophobic bullying, 7.6 to 11.2% indicated that they were “often” or “always” victimized. The model explained 29% of the variance of self-esteem, 19.6% of the variance of internalized homophobia and only 5.3% of the homophobic bullying. The total effect of homophobic bullying on self-esteem was negative and significant. The model suggests that the relationship between homophobic bullying and self-esteem is partially mediated by internalized homophobia among sexual minority youths. Internalized homophobia was higher among women and trans identified compared to men.

Discussion: Homophobic bullying impacts self-esteem both directly and indirectly through internalized homophobia. Homophobic bullying is likely to generate a general signal of rejection and of threat regarding one’s relational value and thus decreases self-esteem, independently of the internalization of the homophobic stigma. Youths who were bullied because of sexual minority status may have interpreted prejudices as signs of societal disapproval and condemnation of sexual minority behaviors, thus internalizing the anti- LGBTQ stigma.