Bullying Among Children and Youth on Perceptions and Differences in Sexual Orientation

— Stop Bullying Now! U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HRSA
Updated on Sep 29, 2010

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time. Children and youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), or are perceived to be so, can face unrelenting teasing and bullying by their peers. Because this aggression can be sexual in nature, the effects closely resemble those of sexual harassment and in some cases may constitute sexual harassment.

The Prevalence of Anti-LGBT Bullying

Surveys of middle and high school students show that a great deal of verbal and physical bullying in our schools is directed at students who are, or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or sexual minority youth.

  • The National School Climate Survey, conducted in 2005 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), concluded that three-quarters of the high school students surveyed heard derogatory and homophobic remaks "frequently" or "often" at school, and 90 percent heard the term "gay" used generally to imply someone is stupid or worthless. Bullying around issues of sexual orientation, non-confirming gender behaviors and dress was the most common form of bullying, second only to issues of appearance (e.g., body size and disability).1
  • In a poll conducted in 2005 by Harris Interactive and GLSEN, 60 percent of students (aged 13-18) had been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past school year because of real or "perceived race/ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, or religion" (p. 4). Over half of these incidences were thought to be based on secual orientation along.2
    • Among students who identified themselves as LGBT, 90 percent had been bullied in the past year. Of these, 66 percent had been verbally abused, 16 percent physically harassed, and 8 percent had been assaulted.
    • LGBT students reported feeling unsafe at school three times more often than non-LGBT students.
  • In a national survey of teens (ages 12-17) commissioned by the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), 78 percent of teens reported that kids who are gay or who are thought to be gay are teased or bullied in their schools and communities; 93 percent hear other youth use derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while, and 51 percent hear these words every day. 3
  • The 2007 Indicators of School Crome and Safety Report conducted by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, found that 11 percent of students (aged 12-18) reported hearing hate-related words, 38 percent saw hate-related graffiti, and 1 percent reported that the hate-related words related to a disability or sexual orientation.4

Attitudes of Students and Teachers

  • A majority of the students in the Harris Interactive survey admitted knowing gay, lesbian, or bisexual students, and slightly more than one-third of the teachers acknowledged knowing a student with same-sex orientation.
  • Most teachers expressed a commitment to safeguard LGBT students and work to crete school climates that are safe and supportive learning environments.5
  • When teens in the NMHA survey were asked how they felt about the teasing or bullying of LGBT students, 78 percent disapproved and only 3 percent said this behavior was funny.
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