Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth and those perceived as LGBTQ are at an increased risk of being bullied. Results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that, nationwide, more U.S. high school students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) report having been bullied on school property (33%) and cyberbullied (27.1%) in the past year, than their heterosexual peers (17.1% and 13.3%, respectively). The study also showed that more LGB students (10%) than heterosexual students (6.1%) reported not going to school because of safety concerns. Among students who identified as “not sure” of their sexual orientation, they also reported being bullied on school property (24.3%), being cyberbullied (22%), and not going to school because of safety concerns (10.7%).
Bullying puts youth at increased risk for depression, suicidal ideation, misuse of drugs and alcohol, risky sexual behavior, and can affect academics as well. For LGBTQ youth, that risk is even higher.
Research has shown that being ‘out’ as an LGBTQ adult is associated with positive social adjustment. It has beneficial psychosocial and developmental effects for youth, too. However, being ‘out’ or just being perceived as being LGBTQ, can put some youth at increased risk for bullying.
There are important and unique considerations for strategies to prevent and address bullying of LGBTQ youth. While some of the strategies are specifically for LGBTQ youth, most of them, if adopted by schools and communities, make the environments safer for all students.
Creating a Safe Environment for LGBTQ Youth
It is important to build a safe environment for all youth, whether or not they are LGBTQ. All youth can thrive when they feel supported. Parents, schools, and communities can all play a role in helping LGBTQ youth feel physically and emotionally safe:
- Build strong connections with LGBTQ youth to demonstrate acceptance and keep the lines of communication open. Often, LGBTQ youth feel rejected. It is important for them to know that their families, friends, schools, and communities support them.
- Accept LBGTQ youth as they are, regardless of how they identify, reveal, or conceal their sexual identity.
- Protect all youth’s privacy. Be careful not to disclose or discuss sexual identity issues with parents or anyone else, without the young person’s prior permission, unless there is an immediate threat to their safety or wellbeing.
- Provide interpersonal support to students by providing a safe place to talk about their sexual identity and navigate decisions about disclosing or concealing it with others.
- Establish a safe environment at school. Schools can send a message that no one should be treated differently because of who they are or are perceived to be. Add sexual orientation and gender identity protection to school anti-discrimination policies.
- Create Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). GSAs help create safer schools. Schools must allow these groups if they have other “non-curricular” clubs or groups. Learn more about the right to form a GSA under the Equal Access Act.
- Conduct social-emotional learning activities in school to foster peer-relationships and help students develop empathy.
Federal Civil Rights Laws and Sexual Orientation
Federal civil rights laws do not cover harassment based on sexual orientation. Often, bullying towards LGBTQ youth targets their non-conformity to gender norms. This may be sexual harassment covered under Title IX. Read more about federal civil rights laws.
Many states protect against bullying because of sexual orientation in their state laws.
- Bullying of LGBT Youth and Those Perceived to Have Different Sexual Orientations Tip Sheet - PDF
- Learn more about preventing bullying.
- Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to support LGBT youth.
- Read a paper on LGBT bullying - PDF from the White House Conference on Bullying.