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  • Chris Tompkins, AMFT

Key Factors Related to LGBTQ Bullying

Learning more about our values will help us proactively prevent bullying.


  • In 1999, nearly 51 percent of LGB teens reported being depressed. The figure has not changed.

  • One of the most significant ways we can prevent bullying is to help youth connect to their values.

  • Children need to understand that their identity should not be a cause for bullying.

Once, while teaching a social-emotional learning (SEL) class, one of the youths I worked with told me how badly he was bullied during high school. I was shocked because he was such an outgoing and gregarious young man. When I expressed my disbelief, he said, “Why is that so surprising? I’m a little gay boy.” Even though he was 22 and came from a completely different generation from me, it was still the rule, not an exception: LGBTQ+ youth get bullied. Also, his language and referring to himself as “a little gay boy” was almost as if he subconsciously blamed the reason for getting bullied on himself.

As parents and caregivers, we must continue to reinforce at home that, no matter what, a child is never the cause of getting bullied. Nothing about an individual needs to change in order to prevent bullying. That’s like saying a person who dresses a certain way is responsible for being harassed. The bully and the reasons they choose to bully are what needs to change. Creating a new narrative and shifting the focus will prevent shame from continuing to be the subconscious self-talk of bullied youth.

Each of us is familiar with bullying. We’ve either been bullied ourselves, or it has indirectly touched our lives. For LGBTQ+ youth, the numbers are consistently higher. Institutional, cultural, familial, and interpersonal discriminatory beliefs are the root causes of violence toward LGBTQ+ individuals. There are many intersectionalities related to these types of discrimination, but the key factors related to LGBTQ+ bullying are sexism, racism, classism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, queerphobia, heteronormativity, and shame.

What LGBTQ+ bullying boils down to is fear. And fear can manifest itself in many ways. What drives bullying is usually related, but not limited to lack, unhappiness, insecurity, disempowerment, no feeling of purpose, hurt, anger, blame, peer pressure, group dynamics, rite of passage, need to fit in, and power dynamics.

Ultimately, LGBTQ+ bullying looks like fear + misguided beliefs = LGBTQ+ bullying. One of the principles of non-violent communication is that we always operate from our values. At any given moment, our actions reflect our values. One of the most significant ways we can prevent bullying is to help youth consciously connect to their values. Only when we know our values can we know when we aren’t connected to them. Proactive Prevention

A few years ago, I remember talking to my six-year-old niece. She told me how two of her friends had come by earlier in the day.

I said, “Oh, how fun. Did they come over to play?”

She replied, “No, they came over to say sorry for pulling my hair.”

Surprised, I asked my niece, “What did you say after they apologized?”

She immediately said, “I accept your apology!”

I had to laugh at how cute she was. Then I asked where she learned such a mature response. She told me it was something they learned at school, so I asked her to give me an example of how it’s taught.

She said, “Well if one student is mean to another student, our teacher will bring us together and ask them to apologize. The apology isn’t complete until the other person says, ‘I accept your apology.’” Then, in the most matter-of-fact way and in her cute six-year-old voice, she said, “I don’t know why we don’t do that at home. Home is just the same as school, so I don’t understand why it’s not something we do at home.”

I had to pause with what she said because it was true. What I learned teaching social-emotional learning for six years is how important it is for parents to reinforce at-home concepts our students learned in class.

Most children of marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ youth, have received some form of shameful message about their identity. Especially if their identity isn’t spoken about or affirmed by an adult when they are young. The more we engage in open and honest conversations with children at home, the more we can proactively prevent bullying and shame–including some of their most harmful effects, like addiction, suicide, and depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2019 that shows the suicide rate in the United States among 15-24-year-olds has increased to its highest point since 2000, with a recent increase, especially in males 15-19 years old. Not long after, US News and World Report released a study published in JAMA Pediatrics showing while depression rates for heterosexual teens have dropped since 1999, the rate for LGB teens hasn’t dropped. Depression rates for LGB teens have remained the same (the study didn’t include results from transgender youth).

According to the study, each year between 1999 and 2017, roughly 33,500 teens were surveyed on their struggles with sustained bouts of depressed moods, such as sadness and hopelessness. Among the teens who identified as straight, about 3 in 10 reported being depressed for two weeks in a row or more in 1999. By 2017, the number dropped five percentage points. For sexual-minority teens, the numbers were much worse. In 1999, approximately 51 percent of LGB teens reported being depressed. And nearly 20 years later, the figure hasn’t changed. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, says that while images of LGB people have become more positive over the past 20 years, “there is an enormous gap between need and reality when it comes to social services for LGBT youth.”

Caitlin talks about the importance of getting families and more social services involved to support youth. She says,

"Kids are coming out earlier, and parents are much more aware of sexual orientation and gender  identification than ever. That’s great. But that means we now have to  step up and fill a huge and continuously growing need for more and more child development and family support to help these kids."

Ultimately, having systems in place at home, in schools, and on playgrounds will help us empower youth and prevent LGBTQ+ bullying.

“The answer to the bullying problem,” says Brené Brown, “starts with this question: Do we have the courage to be the adults that our children need us to be?”

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7, dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Chris Tompkins, AMFT - Website - Book

References: “National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health,” The Trevor Project, 2019, https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/The-Trevor-….; Oren Miron, MA et al., “Suicide Rates Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States, 2000-2017,” JAMA, June 18, 2019, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.5054; Alan Mozes, “Depression Rates Not Budging for Lesbian and Gay Teens,” US News & World Report, October 22, 2019, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2019-10-22/depression-….

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