Doing the Math: What the Numbers Say About Harassment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Students*

Physical and/or Verbal Threats Faced by LGBT Youth

A study of Massachusetts high school students published in the journal Pediatrics reports that nearly one-third of gay teens had been threatened in the past month with a weapon at school, compared to 7% of heterosexual students surveyed.

In two separate studies, similar percentages of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth reported hearing homophobic comments in their schools. 

In a 1993 study by the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, 97% of students in a Boston public high school said they heard homophobic remarks on a regular basis from their peers.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducted a survey of 496 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students from 32 states. This survey found that over 90% of LGBT youth reported that they sometimes or frequently heard homophobic comments in their schools.

Over one-third of youth reported that no outside party ever intervened when homophobic remarks were made in their school environment, according to GLSEN's "National School Climate Survey."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force "National Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization Report," concludes from its survey: 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians surveyed reported having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence as a result of their sexual orientation during high school.

The GLSEN study measured the frequency of anti-gay harassment in schools and found:

61.1% of LGBT students reported verbal harassment

46.5% reported sexual harassment 

27.6% reported physical harassment (shoving, hitting)

13.7% reported physical assault (being beaten, punched, kicked, etc)

Of those who were victims of verbal harassment, almost half stated that this harassment occurred on a daily basis. 

The home environment can also be very unsafe for LGBT youth. In a survey of lesbians and gays in Pennsylvania, 33% of gay men and 34% of lesbians reported suffering physical violence at the hands of a family member as a result of their sexual orientation. 

In a psychological study of 484 students at six community colleges conducted by Dr. Karen Franklin, 18% of the men interviewed admitted that they had committed physical violence or threats against men and/or women they perceived as gay or lesbian. 

Faculty and Staff Attitudes Toward LGBT Students

James Sears, professor of education at the University of South Carolina, created a ranking system to measure educators' attitudes toward gay and lesbian youth and teachers. He found:

Two-thirds of school counselors surveyed had "negative" attitudes about lesbian and gay youth. 

1 out of 3 prospective teachers in the study could be classified as "high-grade homophobes." 

And 52% of prospective teachers reported that they would feel uncomfortable working with an openly lesbian or gay colleague.

In the "Making Schools Safe" study commissioned by the state of Massachusetts, 53% of gay and lesbian students reported hearing homophobic comments made by school staff.

Similarly, the GLSEN "National School Climate Survey," concluded that over 1 out of 3 lesbian and gay students reported hearing homophobic comments from school faculty or staff.

The 496 respondents to the nationwide GLSEN survey stated that other students were more likely to challenge homophobic remarks than were faculty members. 82.4% reported the intervention (if there is intervention) was by other students, while 66.5% reported that it was a faculty member who intervened. 

Effects of Homophobia on the Behavior of LGBT Youth

The study of Massachusetts youth published in Pediatrics found that more than 25% of self-identified gay teens said they had recently missed school out of fear for their safety, while only 5% of heterosexual teens had missed school out of fear. 

The Pediatrics study found that among self-identified gay and lesbian teens in the Massachusetts sample, more than one-third reported having attempted suicide. This is three times the 9.9% of self-identified straight teens reporting suicide attempts.

Donna Futterman and Caitlin Ryan analyze studies on homeless and runaway youth conducted in Seattle and Los Angeles in their book, Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care and Counseling. According to these city-funded studies, gay and lesbian youth accounted for 20 to 40% of all homeless youth.

* Where we say, "lesbian and gay," that's the language used in the study being quoted. The GLSEN survey is the only one here that specifically included self-identifying transgender youth.


Franklin, Karen, "Psychosocial Motivations of Hate Crimes Perpetrators: Implications for Educational Intervention," 1998. (Dr. Franklin presented her findings to the American Psychological Association in San Francisco. She was the Postdoctural Fellow in Forensic Psychology at the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, University of Washington.)

Garofalo, Robert, Cameron Wolf, Shari Kessel, Judith Palfrey, and Robert H. DuRant, "The Association between Health Risk Behaviors and Sexual Orientation Among a School-Based Sample of Adolescents," in Pediatrics 1998; 101: 895-902.

Gibson, Paul, "Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide," in Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide v.3, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, January 1989.

GLSEN, "GLSEN's National School Climate Survey," Sept. 1999.

"Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth: Report of the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth," 1993. 

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "National Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization Report," 1984.

Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, "Discrimination and Violence against Lesbian Women and Gay Men in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," 1996. 

Ryan, Caitlin and Donna Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care and Counseling, Columbia University Press: New York, 1998.

Sears, James, "Educators, Homosexuality and Homosexual Students: Are Personal Feelings Related to Professional Beliefs?" in Harbeck, Karen, ed. Coming out of the Classroom Closet, Harrington Park Press: New York, 1992.

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