Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Adolescents: Victimization, Belonging, Safety and the Role of Supportive Adults in High School
Adolescence is a time of thinking about sexual development and sexual orientation (1). However, whether or not an adolescent has identified his or her sexual orientation, all adolescents share a strong need to belong (2). A sense of belonging is founded on social experiences that develop from interpersonal relationships among members of the school community, consisting primarily of students and teachers (3). Unfortunately, peer victimization of youth who identify their sexual orientation as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ) not only mutes their need to belong but also renders their safety and survival at school into a constant, conscious concern.
The School Experiences of LGBQ Youth: Past and Present
A sense of belonging is a basic human motivation and its deprivation has been linked to various negative consequences (2). Experiences of peer exclusion and victimization by LGBQ youth and their resulting lower levels of belonging and school attendance have been well documented (4, 5, 6). More recently, however, researchers have called for a change in the focus of this work, and have pressed for an examination of the characteristics of school contexts that promote the well being of LGBQ youth (7, 8). Looking for school characteristics contributing to the well being of LGBQ, recent studies have begun to examine the role of teachers, particularly, in promoting LGBQ youth’s sense of school belonging and safety (9).
LGBQ Youth: Where do They Stand?
The results of our study supported the existing research on the experiences of LGBQ youth in regards to bullying at school, and the emerging research on the positive role of adult support. Approximately 20,000 students took part in our study and around 96% of the participants self-identified their sexual orientation: 1% lesbian/gay, 3% bisexual, 8% questioning, and 88% straight.
Below is a summary of some of the findings:
- 26% of lesbian/gay youth, 6% of bisexual youth, 6% of questioning youth, and 2% of straight youth reported being physically bullied (e.g., hit, shoved, kicked) in school at least once per week.
- 33% of lesbian/gay youth, 15% of bisexual youth, 11% of questioning youth, and 6% of straight youth reported being verbally bullied (e.g., teased, threatened, and called names) in school at least once per week.
- 32% of lesbian/gay youth, 14% of bisexual youth, 8% of questioning youth, and 4% of straight youth reported being socially bullied (e.g., excluded, humiliated, gossiped about) in school at least once per week.
- 32% of lesbian/gay youth, 41% of bisexual youth, 44% of questioning youth, and 58% of straight youth agreed or strongly agreed that they felt a sense of school belonging.
- 52% of lesbian/gay youth, 24% of bisexual youth, 21% of questioning youth, and 7% of straight youth who felt a lack of adult support at school skipped school more than once a week.
- 81% of lesbian/gay youth, 87% of bisexual youth, 95% of questioning youth, and 93% of straight youth who felt there is availability of adult support at school never skipped school or skipped school only once in the school year.