Data Verify “It Gets Better” for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens Facing Bullying

Bullying of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens decreases in their late teens, although gay males continue to face higher rates of bullying than their straight peers. Image:  Jonathan Downey/iStockphoto.com

Bullying of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens decreases in their late teens, although gay males continue to face higher rates of bullying than their straight peers. Image: Jonathan Downey/iStockphoto.com

A new study confirms that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teens face less bullying as they get older, adding some quantitative support for a popular online campaign that began in 2010 to provide encouragement to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth facing discrimination. But the report, published today in Pediatrics, also finds that important disparities persist for gay youth and that early bullying has later emotional consequences that may affect health.

A 2010 YouTube video by advice columnist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, describing how their lives have improved despite early-life bullying sparked an outpouring of more than 50 000 such videos from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults as well as supportive videos from President Obama and other prominent individuals and organizations such as Google. The study, by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Brunel University in the United Kingdom, provides longitudinal data that confirm bullying decreases over time for LGB youth. Joseph P. Robinson, PhD, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the UIUC, and his colleagues analyzed data from a nationally representative cohort study conducted between 2004 and 2010 of 4135 young people in England, including 187 who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

They found that although more than half of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth reported that they were bullied around age 13 and 14 years, fewer than 10% reported they were bullied by the time they reach age 19 or 20. Heterosexual teens reported a similar pattern, with about 40% reporting bullying around age 14 compared with fewer than 10% by the time they are 19 or 20. Bullying rates were about the same for all girls at age 19 or 20, regardless of sexual orientation; however, gay and bisexual males continued to face higher rates of bullying (about 9%) at this age compared with heterosexual males (about 2%).

“The general public and health professionals should be concerned about the disproportionate bullying gay and bisexual males experience during young adulthood,” Robinson said. “We need to better understand why that is.”

Such bullying can have important health consequences, with previous studies suggesting an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior, mood and other psychiatric disorders, and risky sexual behaviors.

Although most LGB youth reported treatment by their peers improved over time, many face lasting consequences from early maltreatment. For example, the authors found that LGB young adults had significantly higher levels of emotional distress than their heterosexual peers, and the authors attributed 50% of this distress to early victimization. Robinson said the results suggest it may be a worthwhile strategy to recognize and address emotional distress among LGB youth early with the hope of reducing distress levels later in life.



Categories: Pediatrics, Primary Care/Family Medicine, Public Health, Uncategorized

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