Bullying eases for lesbian, gay teens as they age: study

Posted at 02/05/2013 4:02 PM

It does get better for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth, with bullying in their early teens fading away as they grow older, according to a study of the name calling, threats and violence faced by teens in England.

Researchers, whose results appeared in Pediatrics, found that while more than half of non-heterosexual teens reported getting bullied at ages 13 and 14, fewer than one in ten was still being victimized six years later.

"This study provides strong empirical support for the idea that it does get better," said lead researcher Joseph Robinson, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Even though you're bullied in high school, chances are you won't be bullied in young adulthood."

But not all the news was good. Gay and bisexual men, in particular, reported that they were still bullied much more often than heterosexual men when surveyed at age 19 to 20. And bullied LGB youth said those experiences contributed to their feelings of depression and worthlessness years later as young adults

The new data are based on a study of 4,135 teens in England who were surveyed every year between 2004 and 2010. Of those, 187, or 4.5%, identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

At the start of the study period, when the youths were 13 and 14 years old, 52% of gay and bisexual boys and 57% of lesbian and bisexual girls said they were called names or experienced threats or violence.

Six years later, 9% of non-heterosexual men and 6% of women were bullied.

By then, heterosexual and non-heterosexual women had a similar chance of being bullied, but gay and bisexual men were four times more likely to be victimized than their straight peers.

"Prior studies suggest that the general public has stronger negative feelings toward gay and bisexual males than toward lesbian and bisexual females," Robinson told Reuters Health.

Other experts noted that while the findings supported the idea that teens grow more tolerant as they age, discrimination still existed at aged 18 and 19, especially for boys.

Even when the name-calling and threats of violence had stopped, many LGB teens in the study continued to feel emotional distress, in part related to past bullying.

"There's a lingering effect into early adulthood... from what has happened earlier in life," said Anthony D'Augelli, who studies LGB youth at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

"Despite what would appear to be a decrease (in bullying), we should not assume that all is well in the lives of these young people," added D'Augelli, who was not part of the study.

Andrea Roberts, who studies trauma and health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said that bullying trends have a lot to do with local culture and acceptance of LGB people, so it's hard to know whether the findings would apply elsewhere.

"It would be really beneficial to have this study done in the United States," she said.