A new study, led by Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that sexual minority youth (those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual) are more likely to be bullied and victimized than their peers.
However, the data doesn’t say why each child was targeted. But most were likely picked on for being ‘different,’ according to Schuster.
“Some kids may be considered by the bullies to be a more girlish boy, or a more boyish girl,” said Schuster. “The differences are persistent and striking. We would think that in fifth grade, most kids don’t recognize themselves or peers as sexual minorities, yet those who will later identify as sexual minorities are already being bullied more than other kids.”
The study surveyed 4,268 students about bullying in Birmingham, Houston and Los Angeles in fifth grade and then again in seventh and tenth grades. After reaching the tenth grade, they were asked if they identified as gay or bisexual. Overall, 21 percent of the girls and 8 percent of the boys said they were not 100 percent heterosexual or straight, or that they were not just attracted to the opposite sex.
Then the researchers went back and compared their past reports of being bullied. Of the fifth graders who later identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, 13 percent reported being bullied, compared to 8 percent of heterosexual students. This is the only study on bullying to follow a representative sample of young people in the United States over several years,
“What really stands out is that we found that kids who are classified as sexual minorities in tenth grade are bullied and victimized more than their peers not only in tenth grade but also in fifth and seventh grades,” said Schuster.
The differences are persistent and striking. “Bullying has serious short and long-term consequences, not only physical injury, but also anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress and negative school performance. Bullying targeted at sexual minorities has even more severe negative effects,” said Schuster.
Dr. Mark Schuster conducts groundbreaking research on child, adolescent, and family health issues, including quality of care, health disparities, adolescent sexual health, and family leave. He described his experiences at Harvard Medical School and its teaching hospitals in a published speech that went viral online, “On Being Gay in Medicine,” and he co-authored the book, Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask).