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School Bullying and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students

Bullying is a big problem for many children and teens, and especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. 

Data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) show that in the year before the survey:

  • 34% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students were bullied on school property
  • 28% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students were electronically bullied, and
  • 13% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students did not go to school because of safety concerns.

While nationally representative data are not yet available based on gender identity, we know that transgender youth often suffer even higher levels of bullying and violence than their non-transgender peers.

For all groups, bullying is linked to poor outcomes, including poor mental health, substance use, suicide, and academic problems. A recent study found that students who were bullied in person or electronically were 5 to 6 times more likely to miss school because of safety concerns.

One way schools address bullying is through policy. In the United States, every state has an anti-bullying law or policy, and many school districts also have anti-bullying policies.
We know a lot about what makes a good anti-bullying policy:

  • A clear definition of bullying and prohibited actions
  • A list of places covered by the policy, such as school grounds, school events, and the internet
  • Increased consequences, including some that promote better behavior, and
  • A statement of rights to other legal actions.

We also know that having a policy is not enough. Implementation plans should explain how to

  • Teach staff, students, and families about the policy 
  • Enforce the policy
  • Report bullying in a way that protects the reporter and leads to a prompt response 
  • Refer victims and students who are bullying to counseling and other services, and 
  • Support effective violence prevention programs.

Anti-bullying policies may or may not list specific characteristics related to being bullied, such as sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, 21 states name some characteristics and 29 do not. We do not yet have enough research to know if listing characteristics makes a policy more effective or not. If local policymakers do want to name specific characteristics, these steps can help protect all students:

  • Explain that students with certain characteristics, actual or perceived by others, may be more likely to experience bullying 
  • Recognize that all bullying is not based on named characteristics and that the things that make a student more likely to be bullied change over time and from place to place, and
  • Ensure that all students are covered by using phrases like “including but not limited to” or “any other distinguishing characteristics” when listing characteristics.

We all have a role to play to prevent bullying. We must work together to help build safe and supportive schools where all students get the support they need and bullying does not exist.

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