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Does it 'get better' for bullied gay or bisexual youth?
February 5th, 2013
11:25 AM ET

Does it 'get better' for bullied gay or bisexual youth?

The answer to that question depends on how you look at it, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents are victims of bullying twice as often as their heterosexual peers. But research finds that the overall incidence decreases after high school, particularly among girls. However, the scars of emotional distress remain significantly higher in LGB youth.

"What we see is, slightly over half of LGB teens are bullied when they're ages 13 to 14, and then when they're ages 19 to 20, the rates of bullying are fewer than 10 percent," said study author Joseph Robinson from the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Robinson says these numbers support the message of the "It Gets Better Project."  The project features user-created videos and was designed to remind lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teenagers "the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach - if they can just get through their teen years," according to its website.

"These data provide strong empirical support that it does get better," Robinson said. "We've been hearing ... this message of hope.  These data are consistent."

Researchers studied 4,135 students in England who were in year 9 (equal to eighth grade in the United States) in 2004– half boys and half girls. All were white and British. Of the total group, 4.5% identified themselves as LGB.  Participants were interviewed annually through 2010.

At the start, researchers surveyed parents about whether their child was called names.

Throughout the study, the students answered questions about being bullied through name-calling, threats of physical violence against them or actual physical violence within the year prior. They also reported if they felt unhappy, depressed or worthless.

The numbers of LGB youth who reported being victim to bullying significantly dropped overall. However, the decrease was not seen when gay/bisexual boys were compared to heterosexual boys. In fact, gay/bisexual males were more than four times as likely to report bullying at the end of the study, when the participants were ages 19 to 20.

"We need to better understand why (relative) rates of bullying get worse for gay/bisexual males after high school," Robinson said.

One year after high school ended, LGB youth had significantly more emotional distress than their heterosexual peers.

Robinson says the study suggests a need to focus on reducing bullying.

"Bullying and emotional distress during high school predict about half of the LGB-straight disparity in emotional distress after high school, suggesting that we may be able to reduce that disparity by reducing bullying during high school and treating earlier emotional distress," he said.

The study authors note the data is self-reported and the results may not generalize to other countries, even though there was no reason to suspect different results between the United Kingdom and the United States.


soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Huge Mustache

    I think the whole "it gets better" BS is BS. It says that you just have to accept being bullied. Stand-up and fight for your rights. Call the cops! Do what is needed to make it stop. Hate crimes are hate crimes.

    February 9, 2013 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anon

      It's easy to say that you should do "whatever it takes" to stop bullying. I was bullied as a child, and my parents sat me down every night and responded to each comment that I reported to them. If someone said I was ugly, they would point out the ways that I was pretty; if they made fun of my racial heritage, they taught me about my heritage so I could be proud of it, etc. Then, they would call the parents of the bullies, talk to the teacher, and talk to the principal if the bullying was at that point. It got so bad that they had me transferred mid-year, and shortly after, the group of bullies beat up a girl for calling them out.

      My parents taught me to never fight back, but to walk away and find an adult; they taught me that they, as my parents, would protect me at all costs, and that as long as I was in a teacher's presence the bullies would have to leave me alone, or bully me in front of the teacher (thus landing themselves in trouble). My parents taught me that it gets better–and it did. The other girl who was physically harmed was taught to defend herself and others by standing up to bullies. Standing up to a bully doesn't work too well when you're alone in a bathroom and get your head bashed in on a sink, because there are five bullies and one of you. Standing up and fighting also doesn't work when you're the smallest person in your class (as I was). Seeking help from authority figures DOES work, and knowing that it gets better does get you through the depression of being bullied. But, I'm not gay, I was bullied because of my size, lack of discernible athletic ability, heritage, and overall nerdiness.

      February 18, 2013 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • sgreco

      the IGB campaign is not telling kids to accept being bullied. Its telling kids that if they feel suicidal, they should hang in there, because they wont always feel like this. Its easy to feel like you'll feel this way forever when you're young. People who have been bullied and then grew up into adults know that it gets better, you wont feel this way anymore, you will have great people and things in your life -dont throw it all away.

      February 26, 2013 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
    • hehe

      interesting especially if the project is not personally helping or reaching an individual that is being bullied directly..

      March 7, 2013 at 00:40 | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      I heard of a teacher that when told of bullying he confronted the bully with what he would be facing if it continued. The teacher also taught wrestling and told the bully he would be put onto the mat with a bigger student who did not agree with bullying as he had learned self confidence through his sport. Most of the bullies decided to do something else to cover their inadequacies.

      October 21, 2013 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Ana

    If you've seen the suicide rates amongst gay teens, it's surprising you would call the campaign BS.
    I think every possible campaign should be out there to create hope for kids who feel there is none.

    February 14, 2013 at 02:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hehe

      does charity begin at home?

      March 7, 2013 at 00:41 | Report abuse |
  3. irony

    it's hard to take this movement seriously especially when gay people discriminate in their adulthood...

    March 7, 2013 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ty'shon

    i been bully ever since i stared school an aint nobody did nothing abt it an now i'm in the 9 grade they trying to hold me back because of the day's i miss half of thim day's i miss cause i just did't feel like goin to get bully can someone please help me i don't want to be back in the 9 grade again

    April 10, 2013 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mudfoot

    How come adult gays are allowed to bully people and call them bigots but when the shoe is on the other foot the cry? I find these gay bullies disgusting low life cretins. They want special treatment. If you are gay that"s your business but that gives you no right to bully people and the same applies to straight folks..

    October 17, 2013 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. I am proud to be me.

    I was bullied all through my school career. Punched, slapped, pinched, tripped, pushed, the bullies even took a stapler to my back and arms, used jumped ropes for lashings...it was endless. If I fought back the teachers punished me, sent me to the Principal and then made me sit in front of their desk for rest of the year where the whole class would discuss how I was a digusting f*ggot, throw things and send me notes with further threats of violence if I told anyone. I was 10. Look at your 10 year old, with the mind and coping abilities of a 10 year old and tell me that is fair and to "toughen" up. I didn't want to commit suicide and never tried it either but I did believe, at that time, I was a mistake and wished I was dead...at 10 years old. Continual praying didn't help either...it just distanced myself from God, I thought He didn't care either. I was a child and didn't understand why I was different, I didn't fully understand what a f*ggot was or what they did that was so bad to make everyone actively hate me. I couldn't tell my family because if being a f*ggot was as bad as I heard I was sure they would be humiliated and send me away. The bullying continued throughout high school – of course the threats grew more and more violent and I was concerned of being raped by the boys in the locker room. So what was I left with as an adult? Self esteem issues, anger, sadness and a lack of self-confidence in all things that I tried to accomplish as an adult. I was continually victimized for other reasons but the trap was already set at 10 years old. The trap was learned survival behavior that lent itself to victimization. In my late 20s I learned to take control of my life. Took it back from the bullies I had left behind both at school and on my job. Even after all of that I still wouldn't want to be straight, it's as foreign to me as straight people feel about being gay. I'm in my 40s now and my heart breaks when I hear about bullying. While schools are discussing what is "appropriate" sex ed and acceptable behavior another bullied child is losing future potential by the minute. Gay isn't bad and isn't immoral and it should never be used as a negative term. There are gay children and gay children grow into gay adults. Prudes and conservatives and religious zealots have to accept that gays are part of our supposedly free democracy. Gays are now living under gay Jim Crow laws...it's disgusting. My advice to parents would be to love your gay children. Celebrate with them their first crush, their first kiss, their first date and console them when their heart is broken just as you would your straight child. None of my firsts were celebrated. In time, my parents supported me but I was in my 20s and trying to be as independent as I could – it wasn't the same but it was appreciated. My mother even tried to be a matchmaker for me...which I thought was hilarious. Take action now to stop bullying before we lose another beautiful child.

    October 17, 2013 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cleareye1

      Thank you for posting.

      October 21, 2013 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  7. Haha

    If you are in high school especially in rural or even suburban areas that are not very accepting of people that are different it is a bad idea–keep it to yourself or just a small group of trusted people until college. Revealing it to the world at that stage will just cause problems. As most people get older they are more accepting of people that are different.

    Often I think that the people that bully kids to death regret it, but probably like 10-15 years later when it's too late.

    October 19, 2013 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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