Equity & Diversity

LGBT Students Bullied at Higher Rates Than Their Peers, Poll Finds

By Evie Blad — September 28, 2016 3 min read
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students completing a recent survey were more likely to report bias-based bullying, online harassment, and feeling unsafe at school than their peers, a new report finds.

And, though school climate issues and peer harassment have improved in many ways over the last decade, bullying remains a persistent problem for many students, says the survey, commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

“Overall, bullying still persists at unacceptable levels, and the gains of the past ten years throw the more intractable aspects of the problem into higher relief,” the report finds. “LGBTQ students still face rates of violence much higher relative to their peers. Teachers report that they are less comfortable and less prepared to address the harsh conditions faced by transgender and gender nonconforming students. And amidst progress in reducing the use of most types of biased language in schools, racist language remains as prevalent as it was a decade ago.”

The survey comes ten years after GLSEN released its big report, “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers.”

On behalf of GLSEN, Harris Poll administered an online survey to 1,367 U.S. students age 13-18, and to 1,015 U.S. middle and high school teachers. The data was weighted demographically to reflect the national population.

Compared to students who are not LGBT, LGBT students “were more likely to be bullied or harassed based on actual/perceived sexual orientation (67.0% vs. 13.5%), gender expression (59.7% vs. 17.6%), gender (39.9% vs. 17.0%), appearance/body size (68.4% vs. 50.3%), and ability (26.7% vs. 12.2%),” the report finds. “LGBTQ students were also more likely to experience sexual harassment (43.6% vs. 26.4%), having rumors/lies spread about them (67.2% vs. 52.7%), property damage (44.1% vs. 38.1%) and cyberbullying (40.2% vs. 32.8%) than non-LGBTQ students.”

About a third of teachers polled had received professional development on student issues related to sexual orientation, and less than a quarter had any training on transgender student issues.

As I’ve reported before, there’s little consistent, reliable federal data about the experiences of LGBT students in schools, but several government surveys have added questions recently in an effort to address that.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Students completing the most recent survey reported lower incidence of biased remarks (about issues like religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in every area except racist remarks, than students in 2005.
  • One quarter of students reported hearing school staff make negative remarks related to students’ gender expression, one fifth about students’ academic ability, and one fifth heard sexist remarks from school staff.
  • About 15 percent of students heard school staff make homophobic remarks, 14 percent heard racist remarks, 14 percent heard negative remarks about religion, and 13 percent heard negative remarks about gender identity.
  • About a third of students reported school employees intervened often or very often in response to racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks.
  • The most common reasons students reported for bullying or harassment were body size/appearance (36.2%), actual/perceived sexual orientation (19.2%), race/ethnicity (10.4%), academic ability (10.1%), and how masculine or feminine they are (9.2%).
  • Almost three-quarters of surveyed students reported “personally experiencing some type of peer victimization in the past school year.”
  • Half of surveyed teachers said that “bullying, name-calling, or harassment was a serious problem at their school.”

Further reading on school climate, bullying, and LGBT students:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.