Bullying in the LGBTQIA+ Community

Published on: 07 Oct 2021
Woman in leather jacket being stared at by three classmates

Bullying is rampant these days. We live in an age of social media where constant scrutiny and the ability to taunt and hurt others on a very visible level is mainstream and easy to do. Bullying is something anyone can be affected by. The LGBTQIA+ community is no exception. This group of people experiences bullying and harassment more than other groups do. 

In fact, this group is almost 2 times more likely to be verbally harassed, called names, or physically assaulted when compared to straight, non-LGBT, or cisgender peers. This raises the concern that LGBTQ bullying is a huge problem

The LGBTQIA+ community is a particularly vulnerable group especially when we’re talking about teens and youth. They regularly have to deal with vicious verbal, mental, and physical attacks due to how they identify. And with all of the bullying and harassment, there is a heavy negative impact on LGBTQIA+ mental health.

The statistics are clear. The LGBTQIA+ community and individuals are in danger. How bullying treatment affects their mental health and education is something that we need to talk about. With the right acknowledgement, support, and guidance, those who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community can get the help they deserve and need and learn how to find a LGBTQ therapist

The Effect on Mental Health

The effects that LGBTQ bullying can have on mental health are clear. Being mistreated on any level can have lifelong repercussions. While LGBTQ youth bullying often begins in the teen and adolescent years, it frequently happens even into adulthood. From discrimination to harassment, the resulting pain from being bullied isn’t easy for anyone to get over, regardless of age.

  • An estimated 63% of LGBT teens say they’re unhappy, versus just 33% of non-LGBT youth who report the same. 
  • Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth are. 
  • Every time someone who’s LGBTQIA+ experiences physical or verbal attacks or harassment, they’re 2 ½ times more likely to engage in self-harm. 

“The effects of bullying are compounded for teens who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They often don’t have the support system they need to have in place, to adequately support them. This may be due to the fact that they haven’t ‘come out’ to their parents or primary support system -out of fear or rejection, or because their support system has already rejected them. Teens in this community often feel alone and can be vulnerable to chronic bullying and don’t know where to turn.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC, LPC

Bullying can cause serious mental health challenges like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychological distress
  • Substance abuse
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Increased risk taking behavior (sexuality)
  • Work and academic challenges
  • Missed work and school
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

The Effect on Education

Bullying doesn’t only affect mental health. It can also have a significant, direct impact on education, too. Difficulty concentrating, fear of their environment, avoidance — all of this can ultimately affect how LGBTQIA+ youth learn and what type of education they receive. Overwhelmingly, LGBTQ teens regularly experience sexual harassment, relational aggression, cyberbullying, theft, and physical assault more than their cisgender peers. 

Studies consistently show that bullying can result in lower grades and missed school. And worse, sometimes it can feel like help is nowhere to be found. Just how much is bullying interfering in the education of a LGBTQ student and the LGBTQ community? The statistics are pretty staggering. 

According to the 2019 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools, young people experience severe types of bullying regularly.

  • One-third of respondents say they felt so unsafe at school, they missed at least an entire day within the last month. 
  • Almost one-fifth report that they actually even changed schools because they felt unsafe. 
  • 59% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of how they identify. 
  • Almost 60% of LGBTQ students were sexually harassed at school in the last year. 
  • A shocking 52% of students say they’ve experienced homophobic remarks from school staff or teachers. 
  • Over two-fifths of LGBTQ students have experienced cyberbullying (electronic harassment) in the last year. 

Most students don’t report their experiences. They fear retaliation and have serious doubts about what, if any, effective responses would be given by school administration and faculty. 

“So many of my teen clients who identify as LGBTQIA+ miss days and days of school. Bullying has left them feeling angry, ashamed and fearful. Often they complain about physical symptoms or find other excuses, but the pattern of chronic absenteeism is undeniable.”

Talkspace therapist Dr. Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC, LPC

How to Help Our LGBTQIA+ Youth

We must acknowledge that we can help speak out against LGBTQIA+ youth bullying. By ensuring that students have a safe environment that’s respectful and positive, emphasizing inclusivity, students can feel comfortable at school and in other places in their lives. 

This may sound like a tall order, and it definitely begs the question: OK, but how do we do this? But the truth is, there are a number of ways we can offer productive, positive, inclusive environments for all students. 

Stop LGBTQIA+ bullying

Together, we can stop LGBTQ bullying. If you see someone being bullied, you can and should intervene. Don’t be afraid to get a parent, teacher, counselor, or another adult involved if you see someone being bullied or if you yourself are being harassed. 

Speaking out is the only way we can come together and make it known that LGBTQ youth bullying will not be accepted. Consistent and fast responses are important if we hope to curb bullying behavior and tendencies in the long run.

Make schools a safe space

Addressing LGBTQ bullying in schools is our number one priority. We can make an effort towards making schools safe havens for all students, especially those who identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, by making it abundantly clear that bullying will not be accepted on any level. Two other ways to end bullying at schools include: 

  • School clubs: Provide school clubs that offer a safe space and a network for LGBTQIA+ students. Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) are clubs that can provide intervention, support, and connectedness for students. They can also offer awareness for faculty, staff, and other students.  
  • Educate educators: Supportive educators who are allies and openly “there” for LGBTQIA+ students can lead by example and foster an accepting environment that students feel safer in.
  • Develop policies to prevent bullying: The best way to ensure a bully-free environment is to enforce it. Schools can work to develop policies that specifically prohibit bullying.

Mental health resources for LGBTQIA+ youth

There are many mental health resources that can help address LGBTQ bullying and help deal with it if you’ve experienced it or someone you know is struggling. Finding a support group or a LGBTQ friendly therapist can be your first step. You don’t have to suffer alone. There are people out there and resources available to help you navigate difficult situations like these.  

If you or someone you care about is being bullied, being an advocate and standing up to bullying is one of the kindest, strongest things you can do. For more information on how to help, check out the following resources:

  • Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) — PFLAG is the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies.
  • Advocates for Youth Toolkit: Creating Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth — Advocates’ mission is driven by its vision of Rights. Respect. Responsibility.
  • Human Rights WatchHuman Rights Watch defends the rights of people in 90 countries around the world. They spotlight abuses and bring perpetrators to justice.
  • The Trevor ProjectThe Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) young people.
  • LGBTQIA+ National Help Center — The LGBTQIA+ National Help Center offers three hotlines for adults, youths, and seniors 50 and over. There is also an online support chat where you can message a peer support volunteer, and they offer weekly moderated youth chat rooms.
  • GLSENGLSEN’s mission is to ensure that every member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
  • American Psychological Association (APA) — The APA is dedicated to advancing psychology to benefit society and improve lives.

LGBTQ bullying is a nationwide, serious problem that affects so many of our youth. But together, we can put an end to the abuses and mistreatment that are simply unacceptable in our world today. You don’t have to tolerate negative or abusive behavior or attitudes towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Sources:

  1. Human Rights Campaign. (2013). Growing Up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report Key Findings. https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Growing-Up-LGBT-in-America_Report.pdf. Washington, D.C. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  2. BULLYING AND LGBT YOUTH. Mental Health America; 2014:1-2. https://www.mhanational.org/sites/default/files/BACK%20TO%20SCHOOL%202014%20-%20Bullying%20and%20LGBT%20Youth.pdf. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  3. CDC. (2011). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/pdfs/ss6509.pdf. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  4. Roberts M. CDC Releases National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Results. HRC. https://www.hrc.org/news/new-cdc-data-shows-lgbtq-youth-are-more-likely-to-be-bullied-than-straight-cisgender-youth. Published 2020. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  5. Boroughs, Ph.D M. The Impact Of LGBT-Related Bullying On Emerging Adults – MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. https://www.mghclaycenter.org/parenting-concerns/grade-school/impact-lgbt-related-bullying-emerging-adults/. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  6. The 2019 National School Climate Survey. New York: GLSEN; 2020. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/NSCS19-FullReport-032421-Web_0.pdf. Accessed September 13, 2021.
  7. Get Help Now. StopBullying.gov. https://www.stopbullying.gov/resources/get-help-now. Published 2021. Accessed September 12, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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