A new study shows that public debate over LGBTQ laws can lead to an increase in homophobic bullying.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University and Columbia University collaborated on the study published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Monday.
The researchers crunched data that included survey results from almost five million middle and high school students in the state of California from 2001 to 2015.
Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage via state constitutional amendment, was approved by Golden State voters 52% - 47% in November 2008. It was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.
The scientists looking at the survey results found that as the debate around Prop 8 began to heat up in 2008, incidents of homophobic bullying among young people began to spike.
During the 2008/2009 school year, homophobic bullying increased 10.8 percent. In the same time period, bullying related to ethnicity, race, religion or gender declined.
Stephen Russell, senior author of the study, told local NBC News affiliate KXAN, “We think that young people don’t hear what adults and lawmakers are talking about, but they do.”
Russell, who has studied the health of LGBTQ young people for nearly 20 years, points out that incidents of homophobic bullying actually exceeded the estimated number of students believed to be LGBTQ at the time.
“The data are telling us that straight kids are getting bullied for this, too,” said Russell. “It’s all about what the bullies perceive.”
The rate of anti-gay bullying began to decline in California after debate on Prop 8 subsided, and has continued to decrease every year since that time.
The study found that rates of homophobic bullying were lower at schools where there was a Gay/Straight Alliances on campus.
The data indicated that anti-gay bullying was below 10 percent at schools with a GSA versus nearly 13 percent on campuses without a GSA.