• Research shows that LGBTQ youth face bullying (in person and online) at higher rates than their peers.
  • Transgender and nonbinary students experience more bullying than cisgender LGBQ students.
  • Suicidal ideation is 3 times more likely among LGBTQ youth who are bullied.
  • LGBTQ-affirming schools reduce the rate of bullying and suicide among LGBTQ youth.
  • Acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity by peers and families can reduce bullying and suicide rates.

Bullying is a widespread problem among today’s youth, particularly for LGBTQ young people.

An October 2021 report from The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, shows that LGBTQ youth continue to experience increased rates of bullying. LGBTQ youth who face discrimination and bullying are also more likely to consider or attempt suicide.

According to the research, LGBTQ-affirming schools help to lower the incidences of both bullying and suicide among LGBTQ youth.

The key to reducing the risk is to implement CDC-recommended protective strategies in schools and to affirm LGBTQ identities at home.

The new research analyzed data collected from just under 35,000 LGBTQ students from The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021.

The survey’s intent was to increase understanding of suicide risk among LGBTQ youth as well as potential protective factors.

Key findings from The Trevor Project’s new research:

  • In the past year, 52% of LGBTQ youth enrolled in middle or high school were bullied in person or online.
  • LGBTQ youth who experienced bullying were 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • 42% of LGBTQ youth had suicidal ideation in the past year, more than half of whom were transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • 61% of transgender and nonbinary students are impacted by bullying, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students.
  • 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported suicidal ideation, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide.
  • Students who identified as Native/Indigenous LGBTQ students (70%), white (54%) students, or multiracial (54%) reported the highest rates of bullying compared to Latinx (47%), Asian American/Pacific Islander (41%), or Black (41%) students.
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Why is bullying higher among LGBTQ youth?

“LGBTQ youth are more than 4 times as likely to attempt suicide each year compared to their cisgender and straight peers,” said Amy Green, PhD, vice president of research for The Trevor Project, in an interview with Psych Central.

“But that risk is related to their environment and the way they’re treated by other people.”

To change the way LGBTQ youth are treated and reduce suicide risk, the solution, according to Green, is to create an environment that is affirming, supportive, and inclusive.

Green said that traditional models designed to reduce suicide risk rely on the individual to change how their thoughts influence their feelings and behaviors.

“Therapy alone isn’t going to be enough to change the world that LGBTQ youth live in,” Green said.

The new research highlights that LGBTQ-affirming schools fostering a safe, accepting, and supportive environment for LGBTQ youth reduce the risk of bullying, resulting in reduced suicide risk.

Here’s a look at the data:

  • LGBTQ students attending LGBTQ-affirming schools were 30% less likely to be bullied.
  • 46% of LGBTQ youth in LGBTQ-affirming schools reported being bullied compared to 57% of LGBTQ youth whose schools were not LGBTQ-affirming.
  • 55% of transgender and nonbinary youth in schools that were LGBTQ-affirming had lower rates of bullying compared to 65% of those who attended schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming.

Acceptance of gender-expansive youth

Other 2021 research reports that transgender and nonbinary youth are bullied up to 3 times more than their peers.

Of the nearly 4,500 youth studied, up to more than half of transgender students were verbally abused by their peers, and 1 in 3 experienced cyberbullying

According to The Trevor Project’s research, transgender and nonbinary youth are also more likely to attempt suicide compared to their cisgender peers, including those who identify as LGBQ.

In fact, a 2020 study showed that transgender and nonbinary youth were 2 to 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, suicidal ideation, and attempted suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers.

Research suggests that acceptance can go a long way.

A November 2021 study showed that acceptance of a transgender and nonbinary young person’s identity from adults and peers was associated with a reduced risk of attempted suicide. The strongest association between acceptance and suicide prevention was among parents and family members.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends protective strategies to implement in schools to improve the livelihood of LGBTQ youth. These include:

  • zero-tolerance policies for LGBTQ-based bullying and harassment
  • establishing gender and sexuality alliances to create safe and supportive spaces
  • sexual education including literature that focus on LGBTQ issues
  • training teachers and staff in LGBTQ cultural competency such as sharing names and pronouns
  • access to LGBTQ youth-affirming health care

What barriers exist?

LGBTQ youth deserve an affirming and supportive learning environment, but recent data shows that across the United States, a median of 15.3% of schools across the States implement all supportive strategies recommended by the CDC.

A 2018 study by Green and others pointed to certain barriers that affect a school’s ability to implement protective strategies for sexual and gender minority students. These include a lack of resources, staffing concerns, and knowledge deficits.

“Our schools are often under-resourced and understaffed, and making any sort of change can be quite challenging,” Green said.

“Because our schools are strapped and because of stigma against LGBTQ people, there’s a gap in being able to make our schools change to better support them.”

Messages from parents that deny a child’s identity is harmful to LGBTQ youth. According to the Trevor Project, only 1 in 3 LGBTQ young people report their home as LGBTQ-affirming.

“Most parents want the best for their child and want their child to be happy and succeed,” Green explained. “Oftentimes parents mistakenly think their child’s LGBTQ identity is something that would get in the way of their happiness; they’re afraid of how the world would treat them.”

Family acceptance programs, such as the Family Acceptance Project in San Francisco, California, teach parents how to accept their child’s identity by replacing rejecting behaviors and attitudes with more affirming ones.

Abbie Goldberg, PhD, of Clark University, focuses on the intersection of gender and sexuality and mental health. She said that parents can advocate for their LGBTQ children at home by talking to them about what’s going on at school. Parents can also seek out support resources for their children, such as LGBTQ-affirming therapists.

“Parents can model accepting and affirming behavior towards LGBTQ people through how they talk about LGBTQ friends, neighbors, teachers, media personalities, etc.,” Goldberg told Psych Central.

“They can ensure their language reflects a non-judgmental and normalizing stance regarding sexual and gender diversity, as well as verbally condemn discriminatory behavior, attitudes, and language.”

Social support, affirmation, acceptance, visibility, and pride within the LGBTQ community, can help put a stop to bullying and discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

Though it will take time and effort before the majority of our schools are LGBTQ affirming, online organizations like The Trevor Project offer community, support, and acceptance for LGBTQ youth whose identities are not affirmed at home or school.

Stopbullying.gov offers resources on bullying prevention and what to do if you witness someone being bullied in person or online. Non-LGBTQ youth can also be powerful allies to help advocate for change.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.