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05 February 2013

Bullying declines as LGB youth get older

It does get better for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth, according to a new study of the name calling, threats and violence faced by teens in England.

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It does get better for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth, according to a new study of the name calling, threats and violence faced by teens in England.

Researchers found that although more than half of non-heterosexual teens reported getting bullied at ages 13 and 14, less than one in ten was still being victimised six years later.

"This study provides strong empirical support for the idea that it does get better," said lead researcher Dr 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."

However, the findings weren't all good news. Gay and bisexual men, in particular, reported that they were still bullied much more often than heterosexual men on their final survey, 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.

How the study was done

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

At the start of the study period, when kids 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, according to published findings.

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 victimised 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," Dr Robinson.

"We have the idea that kids are more tolerant as they get a little older and more mature," said Dr Andrea Roberts, who studies trauma and health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

'Culture and acceptance'

The new findings support that thought. But she said, "It's important to keep in mind that even in kids that were 18 or 19, there's still easily detectable discrimination, at least in the boys."

Even when name-calling, threats or 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 Dr 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," said Dr D'Augelli, who wasn't part of the research team.

"People are still victimised, and sometimes from early ages and for long periods of time, and there are consequences that don't go away just because the victimisation stops."

Dr Robinson said schools can help LGB teens by forming gay-straight alliances, including LGB topics in the curriculum and having anti-bullying policies that specifically mention harassment due to sexual orientation.

Dr Roberts, who also wasn't involved in the new research, pointed out 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 to other places.

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

(Reuters Health, February 2013)

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