Being a teenager today is tough. Being a teenager who is LGBTQAI+ is exponentially more difficult. Think about what a typically developing teenager goes through on an average day – school (academic, social, and extracurricular stress), navigating social media, physical and mental changes, and so on. Now add potentially non-affirming family, friends, and teachers, as well as physical, psychological, and electronic bullying to the mix, and you have a day in the life of 52% of our LGBTQAI teenagers (according to a recent survey by Trevor Project).
Why Are LGBTQ+ Youth Bullied?
There are many probable answers for “why,” with the most common being our LGBTQAI kids are seen as different. If reading that just triggered an angry mama bear response, it’s okay, you are not alone. And, like we all tell our kids, we cannot change another person’s response to a situation, but we can change our own. So let’s talk about what we can do to support our kids to prevent (and ultimately end) LGBTQAI bullying.
LGBTQ+ Bullying Statistics
The statistics surrounding LGBTQ+ bullying paint a heartbreaking picture. According to Mental Health America and The Trevor Project, our LGBTQ+ teenagers are 2x as likely as their heterosexual peers to be called names, verbally harassed, physically assaulted, or conversely, be shunned and have friends suddenly ignore them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A closer look at these numbers shows 1 in 3 experience bullying in person, meaning anywhere, not just school, while 42% experience bullying online i.e social media and via text message.
Additionally, 65% of LGBTQ+ middle-school-age kids and 49% of high school-age kids reported being bullied. Within these numbers, 61% of transgender and nonbinary reported bullying compared to 45% of their cisgender LGBQ peers.
Dangerous Effects of Bullying on LGBTQ+ Youth
Facing harassment, threats, violence, and isolation on a daily basis affects our LGBTQ+ youth in multiple ways.
Regardless of whether the bullying is physical or psychological, the daily internalizing of these hateful messages is devastating to an LGBTQ+ adolescent’s self-esteem, causing it to plummet into self-loathing. Self-loathing spirals into depression and anxiety as well as other mental health issues. The pain can be fiercely intense causing behaviors such as substance use and abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation just to name a few.
The National School Climate Survey and studies from the Human Rights Campaign shows:
- Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education. LGBT youth identified bullying problems as the second most important problem in their lives, after non-accepting families, compared to non-LGBT youth identifying classes/exams/grades. 
- LGBT youth who reported they were frequently harassed in school had lower grade point averages than students who were less often harassed. 
- One survey revealed that more than one-third of gay respondents had missed an entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe there. 
- LGBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. Sixty percent of LGBT students did not report incidents to school staff. One-third who reported an incident said the staff did nothing in response. 
LGBTQ+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Let that sink in. Bullying, hate speech, discrimination, and/or physical assault are so cruel, so unbearable that a child would rather stop living than exist one more day in their tortured environment.
Within the LGBTQ+ community, The Trevor Project found that 29 percent of LGBTQ+ middle school students who were bullied attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 12 percent who did not experience bullying. For high schoolers, 25 percent who were bullied attempted suicide, compared to 10 percent of those who did not report being bullied.
They also found that 32 percent of transgender and nonbinary young people who were bullied attempted suicide, compared to 14 percent who were not bullied. This compares to the 19 percent of cisgender LGBQ young people who attempted suicide. About 7 percent of cisgender LGBQ youth who were not bullied attempted suicide in the past year.
Not surprisingly, even with support and intervention, the effects of bullying on our LGBTQ+ kids can last decades. Studies performed in Finland, the UK, and the University of Arizona found that general depressive disorder, general and acute anxiety, and stress management are higher in LGBTQ+ adults who were bullied as adolescents. Knowing this information can help a mental health professional guide the healing process.
How to Help Prevent LGBTQ+ Bullying
In an interview with Healthline, Amy Green, Ph.D., vice president of research for The Trevor Project, said “the creation of safe and supportive schools” is a critical next step in halting this growing problem for middle and high schoolers. So, what can we do to not only halt but reverse these high rates of bullying across the spectrum of American LGBTQ young people? Thankfully, there are tips and resources for helping both in the moment and for future prevention.
This is What You Can Do Right Now
- Recognize signs of distress and be a listening ear or facilitate professional support. Listening, showing empathy, and helping them with a plan for safety are the three most important initial steps you can take.
Green asserts that “every young person deserves to feel safe and respected in school without fear of being bullied.” It’s a major quality of life issue that should be the norm. “When bullying does occur, it can be scary or embarrassing to ask for help,” she said. “Please know that you are not alone, and reaching out for help is a brave thing to do.”
Read more on Healthline
- Advocate that your school establish zero-tolerance policies for LGBTQ+ bullying and harassment. Identify “safe spaces,” such as a counselor’s office, teacher’s classroom, etc. where an LGBTQ+ student can receive support.
- Use inclusive language; do not make assumptions. Understanding and using both correct language and pronouns shows an LGBTQ+ person respect and that you want to support them. You will make mistakes, but it is better that you show curiosity and put forth the effort, than to stay silent and communicate disinterest.
- Make sure LGBTQ+ youth have access to community-based providers who have experience providing health services, including medical, counseling, social, and psychological services as well as HIV/STI testing for LGBTQI+ youth.
- Dr. Jack Turban, a chief fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, recently said in an email to Healthline,
“One of the most effective ways to prevent mistreatment of minoritized people is through experiential learning: having students meet or watch videos about LGBTQ peers and their life experiences.”
This is What You Can Do to Help Prevent Bullying in the Future
- Find out if your child’s school has a club that supports gay-straight alliances (GSAs). Students who attended schools with GSAs reported fewer homophobic remarks, more intervention from school personnel, and a greater sense of connectedness.
- Encourage educators to be supportive and affirming. Share resources and education with them. LGBTQ+ students who report having six or more supportive staff members in their lives had higher GPAs. Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an incredible resource.
Build a health curriculum that includes education for all sexual orientations and genders, ie. STD/STI education, pregnancy prevention, safety, and body respect and positivity.
- Find out what comprehensive bullying/harassment policies and laws are in place in your city and state. It is no surprise that there is a direct correlation between staff intervention and comprehensive bullying/harassment policies.