LGBT Youth Experiences with Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying in School

For Immediate Release
March 22, 2018

Media Contact
Rachel Dowd
dowd@law.ucla.edu
(310) 206-8982 (office) | (310 855-2696 (cell)

LOS ANGELES – Members of Congress yesterday reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SDNA) to protect LGBT students from school-based harassment, bullying, violence and intimidation. The Williams Institute is providing this fact sheet to assist with reporting on the issue of LGBT youth experiences with discrimination, harassment and bullying in primary and secondary schools. Williams Institute scholars are available for comment.

LGBT Students in the United States

In the United States, an estimated 3.2 million youth (ages 8-18) are LGBTQ. Among older youth, approximately 8% or 1.6 million youth (in grades 9-12) identify as LGB, and nearly 1% or 150,000 youth (ages 13-17) identify as transgender.

Federal statutes currently protect schoolchildren by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, national origin, race, and religion, but do not explicitly protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to Williams Institute findings

  • Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have anti-discrimination or anti-bullying laws that explicitly protect LGBT students.
  • Approximately 55% of LGBT youth live in states that do not have laws that explicitly protect them from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Individual schools and school districts can also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, in a 2015 survey, only 10.2% of LGBT students reported that they attended schools with explicit anti-bullying or anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

LGBT Bullying and Discrimination in Schools

Documented evidence indicates that LGBT youth regularly experience discrimination and harassment because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  For example, a 2015 report by GLSEN found that

  • 85% of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment
  • 58% of LGBT youth have felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation; 43% have felt unsafe because of their gender identity
  • 27% of LGBT students have been physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation; 13% have been physically harassed because of their gender identity

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that with regard to LGB youth:

  • 34% have experienced bullying while on school grounds
  • 28% have experienced electronic or cyber bullying

Many transgender adults report that they experienced harassment at school when they were younger. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that of those who identified as transgender in K-12 grade

  • 54% reported being verbally harassed
  • 24% reported being physically attacked
  • 17% reported leaving a school because mistreatment was so bad

Supportive Environments Matter

According to GLSEN, LGBTQ students who attend schools with anti-bullying or antidiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity experience less anti-LGBT victimization than LGBT youth at schools without those protections. Heightened exposure to bullying and harassment by sexual and gender minority youth is associated with increased risk of absenteeism, lower GPAs, school discipline and decreased rates of college or other post-high school plans. It is also associated with increased odds of negative health outcomes and risky behaviors, such as lower self-esteem, higher levels of depression, and increased alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, marijuana use, and use of other illicit drugs. A 2014 Williams Institute report found that over half of transgender adults who experienced harassment or bullying in school reported lifetime suicide attempts.

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The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.

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