‘Sexual Minority’ Children More Likely To Be Bullied at School, Even Before Coming Out
A sobering new study out of Boston Children’s says that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students—the study did not look at trans children—have a much higher chance of being bullied at school than their heterosexual peers—sometimes even before they’ve self-identified as LGB.
The study’s authors, led by Boston Children’s Chief of Pediatrics Mark Schuster, polled 4,268 students in fifth, seventh, and 10th grade about their sexual orientations and experiences with bullying and victimization at school. While instances of bullying and victimization decreased for all students as they aged, LGB (or “sexual minority”) students reported proportionally higher rates of both throughout the course of the study. Further, in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, Schuster and his team wrote that even students who had not yet labelled their sexual preferences in fifth grade were more likely to report bullying when they were older:
“As early as 5th grade, before most youth are likely to be aware of or to disclose their sexual orientation, girls and boys who 5 years later were considered to be sexual minorities on the basis of self-reported information were more likely than other children to report that they had been bullied and victimized.”
For the purposes of the study, the students, all of whom attend public schools in either Texas, Alabama, or California, were considered bullied or victimized if incidents like being left out or physically threatened happened at least once a week. Under that definition, 13 percent of LGB students were bullied in fifth grade compared to 8 percent of heterosexual students, and 4 percent were bullied in 10th grade versus 1 percent of heterosexual students. For victimization, those numbers were 26 and 21 percent in fifth grade and 10 and 6 percent in 10th grade.
This research is unique because it relies on students currently in school, not adults looking back on their childhood experiences. Schuster and his team wrote in the letter that their findings should emphasize the need for consistent wellness monitoring in school:
“Our findings underscore the importance of clinicians routinely screening youth for bullying experiences, remaining vigilant about indicators of possible bullying (e.g., unexplained trauma and school avoidance), and creating a safe environment in which youth feel comfortable discussing their sexuality.”