LGBT Students and Bullying

Lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender youth (or those perceived as such) are disproportionately subjected to harassment and bullying relative to their heterosexual counterparts. The terms “LGBT” and “sexual minority,” as used here, encompass those whose identities are more accurately described as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender variant, gender neutral, questioning, queer, two-spirit, or intersex. The defined terms are used for brevity and not for exclusionary purposes.

Bullying has a strong impact on students’ wellbeing (regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity), social functioning, and academic achievement. Bullying places young people at increased risk of suicide, depression, high-risk sexual behaviors, and substance use, among other negative health outcomes. Those who engage in bullying also suffer ill effects throughout their lives, such as escalating use of bullying or violence and psychiatric disorders.87

Data specifically focused on the LGBT population, including LGBT youth and those who are perceived as such, are highly limited, with few high-quality data sets and a lack of sufficient sample sizes. A 2015 Institute of Medicine report recommended, as a minimum for further research, that “data on sexual orientation and gender identity … be collected in federally funded surveys … which could provide valuable information on the context for health disparities experienced by LGBT people. Similarly, surveys on crime and victimization … would be aided by the development of standardized measures.” Such gaps in the data have forced those studying disparities among LGBT populations to rely on data sets that are not as current as would be desired or to use combinations of different data sets through statistical manipulation. For example, the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), does not include any questions on sexual orientation or gender identity, instead encouraging states and cities to add their ownquestions.

This practice has resulted in wide variance in what is asked, how it is asked, and, ultimately, the reliability of the resulting data.16,88

In April 2013, the Journal of Adolescent Health issued an editorial statement recognizing that one of the difficulties in data collection is a lack of understanding by researchers during survey instrument design. Sexual orientation involves constructs of attraction, behavior, and identity. Within each construct, a wide spectrum exists that evolves throughout adolescence and adulthood. The recognition of this complex requirement for thorough data yielded an editorial position according to which providers, clinicians, and researchers must exercise caution in assigning any labels to an adolescent. Large-scale cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that incorporate standardized language to assess sexual orientation and gender

identity are necessary to capture the complexities of these constructs. Such improvements will enhance the value of future survey data so that disparities can best be addressed through directed programs and interventions suited to specific subpopulations.78,89

Beyond the issues noted in that editorial statement, many data sets are small and cross-sectional and rely on self-reported information. Youth may not respond to any nonconforming classification. The language used to ask about sexual orientation or gender identity is inconsistent in contemporary research. Perhaps most importantly, researchers have had difficulty adequately separating the experiences of the different populations within the broad LGBT umbrella because of small sample sizes. Data have shown strong evidence suggesting that youth who have participated in same-sex behavior or who are questioning their sexuality represent a very significant portion of the population most bullied. Yet, it is this very group that is least likely to be addressed through interventions because they are not captured in surveys that do not allow for a spectrum of orientations and identities.44,90LGBT youth frequently deal with bullying in the form of harassment, violence, andattacks.

Studies have shown that LGBT students constantly received bigoted verbal abuse such as name-calling like homo, fag or sissy more than two dozen times per day.92-94

  • As many as 93 percent of teenagers hear derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while, with more than half of teens surveyed hearing such words every day at school and in the community.
    • Negative name-calling and harassment about sexual orientation can be harmful to all students. Three out of four students who are bulliedwith

such remarks are not identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (GLBTQ). These derogatory comments are often used broadly to inflict harm in a school setting.

  • Seventy-eight percent of gay (or believed to be gay) teens are teased or bullied in their schools and communities, a percentage significantly higher than for heterosexualyouth.
    • According to findings from the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report, in 2003, 12 percent of students ages twelve to eighteen reported that someone at school had used hate-related words against them, and 36 percent of students saw hate-related graffiti at school during the previous six months. One percent reported that the hate- related words concerned their sexualorientation.
    • A national survey of 760 students, ages twelve to seventeen, indicates that the most likely group to be bullied are “kids who are gay or thought to be gay.” Most teens (78 percent) said that they disapproved of anti-gay teasing orbullying.
    • In a nationally representative sample of nearly 3,500 students ages thirteen to eighteen, one-third reported that students in their school are frequently harassed because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation.