- New research from The Trevor Project finds that LGBTQ youth continue to experience high rates of bullying both in-person and digitally.
- 52 percent of LGBTQ young people enrolled in middle and high school reported either electronic or in-person bullying in the past year.
- The research also 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.
It shows that bullying is still having wide-ranging, negative, and cascading effects on young people’s overall mental and physical health — including increasing odds of attempting suicide.
For parents, school administrators, students, and allies of LGBTQ youth, the research only further underscores the negative impacts bullying can have on a young person’s wellbeing and quality of life.
Experts say that this further drives home the importance of creating safe, affirming learning and social environments for LGBTQ youth.
For many, LGBTQ-affirming schools that created these healthier, more inclusive environments made a world of difference, even decreasing the odds of being bullied in the first place.
The new research brief takes data from The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, a survey of just under 35,000 LGBTQ young people.
Those who participated in the research ranged in age from 13 to 24 and answered questions on a variety of topics from the impacts of COVID-19 to conversion therapy.
The Trevor Project, which is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, used both multiple-choice and open-ended questions for this survey.
In the survey, 52 percent of LGBTQ young people enrolled in middle and high school reported either electronic or in-person bullying in the past year.
Zeroing in further, 1 in 3 said they were bullied in person — which could include at school, on the way to school, at work, or at a party — while a higher number, 42 percent, experienced electronic bullying, including online or via text message.
Younger school-age groups experienced bullying more than their older peers.
The Trevor Project found that bullying was reported by 65 percent of LGBTQ middle schooler respondents, while 49 percent of high school students reported bullying. Within the greater LGBTQIA+ community, 61 percent of transgender and nonbinary students reported bullying compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers at 45 percent.
When broken down by racial lines, Native and Indigenous students reported bullying at a high 70 percent, followed by 54 percent of white students, 54 percent of multiracial students, 47 percent of Latinx students, 41 percent of Asian American/Pacific Islander students, and 41 percent of Black students.
“Bullying is a huge problem for LGBTQ youth, especially transgender youth,” said Dr. Jack Turban, a chief fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he researches the mental health of transgender youth, in an email to Healthline. “In some studies, as many as 80 percent of transgender youth report being victims of bullying.”
“This kind of rejection and harassment from peers is one of the greatest risk factors for developing anxiety and depression,” Turban, who was not affiliated with the survey, added. “It truly is a public health issue.”
When asked what’s being done to combat these high rates of bullying across the spectrum of American LGBTQ young people, Amy Green, PhD, vice president of research for The Trevor Project, said it’s “the creation of safe and supportive schools” that is crucial for addressing this crisis affecting middle and high schoolers.
“There are a number of policies and practices schools can implement to reduce bullying and improve school climate for LGBTQ youth,” Green told Healthline. “These include enacting zero-tolerance policies for LGBTQ-based bullying and harassment, establishing Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs), and providing LGBTQ cultural competence training for all teachers and staff.”
Green pointed to
The survey found that students who reported their schools to be “LGBTQ-affirming,” had 30 percent lower odds of being bullied in the past year. When those statistics are broken down, nonprofits found 46 percent of LGBTQ youth in these more inclusive, affirming schools reported being bullied in the past year compared to 57 percent of LGBTQ students who did not report their schools to be LGBTQ-affirming.
The survey found lower rates of bullying reported by middle school students (58 percent) and high school students (44 percent) in these LGBTQ-affirming schools, compared to 69 percent of middle schoolers and 54 percent of high schoolers in non-LGBTQ-affirming schools.
Beyond this, 55 percent of transgender and nonbinary young people in these more accepting and inclusive learning environments reported experiencing bullying compared to 65 percent in non-LGBTQ-affirming schools.
Cisgender LGBQ students experienced bullying at 40 percent and 50 percent in LGBTQ-affirming versus non-LGBTQ-affirming schools, respectively.
“By enacting supportive policies and practices for LGBTQ youth, school educators and administrators can create an environment that not only reduces bullying but also increases the support available to LGBTQ students,” Green added.
Green said that, on the individual level, educators and adults at school should make efforts to educate themselves about the unique experiences LGBTQ youth face and “take small but powerful steps to build inclusive environments.”
She suggested these adults could create norms around behaviors like sharing and respecting pronouns in learning environments as well as even taking the simple act of displaying a Pride flag in their classroom.
She pointed to organizations like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and The GSA Network as effective resources for teachers and administrators who are looking to build better, safer learning environments for their LGBTQ students.
Turban stressed that bullying often impacts a person’s self-esteem.
“For LGBTQ youth, it can also lead to internalized hatred of oneself for being a sexual or gender minority person,” he wrote. “This internalizing of hateful messages is particularly toxic to mental health.”
Green added that bullying’s toll on a young person’s mental and overall health can be vast.
The research brief points to the dark reality that LGBTQ students who reported being bullied were at three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the past year. This applied to both electronic and in-person bullying.
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.
“In most of our research, we find that strong risk factors for suicide attempts, such as being bullied, are also associated with higher rates of other negative mental health outcomes such as anxiety and depression. Of course, the state of our mental health can have direct and profound effects on the state of our physical health, too,” Green added.
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 respected, should be the norm.
“When bullying does occur, it can be scary or embarrassing to ask for help,” he said. “Please know that you are not alone, and reaching out for help is a brave thing to do.”
When asked what a young person can do if they’re experiencing bullying at school, among their peers outside the classroom, online, or even at home, Green said it’s crucial they find someone who will listen and offer support. She said this is a “critical first step.”
“We encourage young people to seek support from a trusted adult, whether that is a parent, friend, teacher, school counselor, or another school leader,” she added.
What about parents, guardians, and educators?
“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,” Turban wrote. “School can also provide things like pride flags and gender and sexual alliances (GSAs) that create an environment where diversity is valued instead of stigmatized.”
For allies of LGBTQ youth — perhaps a peer observing an LGBTQ classmate being bullied — Green said that The Trevor Project encourages the acronym C-A-R-E if you’re noticing signs of suicide in someone else:
- Connect with that person.
- Ask them directly about it.
- Respond with compassion and empathy.
- Empower them with information and support that may help them improve the situation.
“The same steps work for warning signs of bullying,” Green explained. “The key is to listen, practice empathy, and plan for safety. And if you ever witness bullying, do what you can to intervene.”
Looking ahead with their research, Green said that the nonprofit will continue to use their findings to “amplify the experiences of LGBTQ young people across the country and further our efforts to create a world in which they can feel safe and have the chance to thrive.”
“This research will also directly impact our programmatic work,” Green said. “Trevor’s Advocacy team will use this research to help push for policy solutions that create more LGBTQ affirming environments, and our Public Education team will use this to guide their trainings on LGBTQ allyship and suicide prevention.”
For a young LGBTQ person experiencing bullying who might be reading this, Turban has a key takeaway: you aren’t alone.
“For young LGBTQ people experiencing bullying, I want to validate how difficult the experience is and at the same time remind them that there are places out there where they will be loved and accepted for who they are,” he wrote.