Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) and other sexual minority young people tend to experience more bullying, violence, and harassment at school than their heterosexual peers. Victimization based on sexual orientation is often exacerbated in the cases of gender-nonconforming and transgendered students, students of color, and rural students. To prevent violence against LGB students in schools, many states, districts, and schools have enacted formal, comprehensive anti-bullying policies. Despite these recent policy interventions, bias-motivated crimes against sexual minorities still occur in schools.
Data from the National School Climate Survey, administered by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, show that approximately 90% of LGB students hear a negative use of the word “gay” at school on a routine basis and 75% frequently hear other forms of homophobic speech. Sixty percent of these students hear similar remarks from teachers and other school personnel. In addition to negative speech based on sexual orientation, many sexual minority students hear comments challenging their masculinity or femininity.
Nearly nine out of 10 sexual minority students are victims of verbal harassment at school targeting their sexual orientation; many of these individuals are also verbally harassed because of their gender expression. Almost half of all LGB students are pushed, shoved, or nonverbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; one in four sexual minority students has been punched, kicked, or assaulted at school. Sexual minority students are often targets of sexual harassment and web-based bullying as well. While LGB students are disproportionately victims of violence, they have also been shown to witness and perpetrate more violence than their straight peers. Sexual minority males are more likely than sexual minority females to be victims of violence; gender nonconformity and degree of public sexual disclosure (“outness”) are both correlates of victimization among LGB students.
Most sexual minority students who are victims of bullying, harassment, or assault at school do not report the incident to an adult because they anticipate that the situation will become worse if they do. When an incident is reported, the most common response by school personnel is to do nothing; only one-third of sexual minority students who are victims of school-based abuse report an effective intervention from school staff. School personnel effectively intervene even less frequently when faced with anti-gay speech in the classroom. Nonetheless,80% of LGB students can identify a school staff member who they believe is supportive of LGB students.
Common institutional interventions used to protect LGB students from school-based victimization include gay/straight alliances (GSAs), sexual orientation-inclusive curricula, and comprehensive anti-bullying policies. GSAs are present in more than 4,000 schools, and approximately one-third of LGB students participate in such a group. Evidence suggests that GSAs are effective in decreasing the level of homophobic remarks, harassment, and assault in schools and in increasing the sense of school safety and belonging among sexual minority students. Far fewer schools implement curricula inclusive of LGB, gender-nonconforming, and transgendered people. Comprehensive school- and state-level anti-harassment policies, although relatively rare, have been shown to reduce biased language, homophobic remarks, harassment, and assaults targeting LGB students.
Research routinely shows that sexual minority students have lower grade-point averages, higher absentee rates, higher dropout rates, higher course failure rates, and lower bachelor’s degree aspirations than heterosexual students. Academic outcomes and attendance rates are lower among those LGB students who report the highest levels of school-based harassment. While fewer than one-third of students attracted to members of the same sex openly disclose their sexuality to their friends–and even fewer disclose their sexuality to adults at school–those who do maintain a greater sense of school belonging than those who do not.
Several high-profile bias-motivated crimes (“hate crimes”) based on sexual orientation and gender identity have occurred in schools. The most notable among them is the 2008 murder of a gender-nonconforming bullying victim, Lawrence King, in Oxnard, California. Dozens of sexual minority students have committed suicide because of confirmed incidents of anti-gay bullying at school.
- D’Augelli, A. R., Pilkington, N. W., & Hershberger, S. L. (2002, Summer). Incidence and mental health impact of sexual orientation victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths in high school. School Psychology Quarterly, 17(2), 148-167.
- Kosciw, J. G., Diaz, E. M., & Greytak, E. A. (2008). 2007 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
- Russell, S. T., Franz, B. T., & Driscoll, A. K. (2001). Same-sex romantic attraction and experiences of violence in adolescence. American Journal of Public Health, 91(6), 903-906.