MONDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Many gay and bisexual
teenagers are bullied in school, but the problem does ease
substantially as they get older, a new study out of England
Researchers found that of more than 4,100 teens aged 13 and 14
who they surveyed, gay and bisexual teens were more likely to say
they'd been bullied -- anything from name-calling to being
Fifty-seven percent of girls and 52 percent of boys said they'd
been victims, versus about 40 percent of their heterosexual
The good news was that things got better with time, the
researchers report online Feb. 4 and in the March print issue of
Pediatrics. At ages 19 and 20, 6 percent of lesbian and
bisexual women and 9 percent of gay and bisexual men said they'd
been victimized in the past year.
The bad news was that men were still four times more likely to
report bullying than heterosexual young men were.
"Basically this is saying that it does get better, but it's not good enough," said Brian Mustanski, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University, in Chicago.
Mustanski, who was not involved in the study, has done research
on the impact of bullying on gay and bisexual kids. "The work we've
done shows that there is an association between bullying and
suicide attempts and self-harming behavior in [gay and bisexual]
youth," he said.
But it's not only researchers paying attention now, Mustanski
The media have put a spotlight on recent cases in which gay
teens have taken their own lives after being taunted by their
peers. And in 2010, syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who is gay,
launched the "It Gets Better" project to get a message to gay and
bisexual kids who are being bullied.
"The message was, it will get better with time," Mustanski said. "And that's an important message. But we really hadn't had any research to show that that's true."
Lead researcher Joseph Robinson agreed that these findings help
validate what people have believed to be true.
"This suggests that chances are, things will get better," said Robinson, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "We've been giving kids a message of hope, and this is showing that's not a false hope."
But the continuing disparity between gay and heterosexual young
men is concerning, Robinson said. "For straight males, bullying
gets better a lot quicker -- which is great news for them. But we'd
like to see the same improvement for gay and bisexual males."
The picture may be worse for young men because society is
generally less accepting of men being gay or bisexual, Robinson
noted. "Men, in particular, just can't deviate from gender norms,"
he said. "That's what society expects."
The findings are based on a national sample of 4,135 school kids
in England who were interviewed annually over seven years. Of
these, 187 (almost 5 percent) identified themselves as gay, lesbian
Besides asking about bullying, the study also looked at kids'
"emotional distress" levels -- how often they felt depressed,
anxious or unhappy.
In general, gay and bisexual young people had more distress, and
bullying in school appeared to explain about half of the disparity.
Both Robinson and Mustanski said that suggests that anti-bullying
efforts could make a big difference in young people's mental
Right now, some schools have anti-bullying policies that
specifically ban bullying based on sexual orientation. Some have
gay-straight student alliances, which aim to fight homophobia. But
not all schools have programs like that.
Parents can go a long way in helping, Robinson said. "Hopefully,
parents are being supportive and have an open line of communication
with their kids." But, he added, stopping bullies, and their
effects, shouldn't be up to parents and kids alone.
"It needs to be a much more systematic effort," Robinson said. "Schools need to get behind this." He added that if you've complained to your school about bullying and nothing has been done, you can take it to your local civil rights office.
Mustanski also suggested looking for resources outside of
school, including community groups and online help -- like the
Trevor Project, which offers a hotline for gay and bisexual kids
who are thinking of suicide or hurting themselves.
One question from the current study is whether the findings
would be similar in the United States or other countries. Robinson
said he "strongly suspects" the general patterns would be the same
in the United States as in England.
But you can't know for sure without the numbers, Mustanski
pointed out. "We absolutely need a study like this in the U.S.," he
For help in dealing with anti-gay bullying, go to the
It Gets Better
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