Gay Teens Get Bullied Less Over Time, New Study Finds

Bully, beware: You have a shelf life, and it’s not very long.

That’s according to a new, 7-year British study, which found that, for gay and lesbian teens, bullying does indeed subside substantially between the ages of 13 and 20. And researchers believe results would be the same in the U.S.

“The US and UK share many similarities in terms of their battles against oppression and victimization,” researcher Ian Rivers, a psychologist and professor at London’s Brunel University, told Yahoo! Shine. The two countries also share a rapidly evolving culture and set of laws around homosexuality—like the House of Commons' overwhelming passage of a gay marriage bill February 5th—that tend to lower incidences of bullying.

But, Rivers stressed, “With so many young people taking their own lives because of the harassment they experience, both here in the UK and in the US, it’s important that we continue to draw attention to the persistent failure to tackle this form of abuse effectively.”

Which brings us to the study’s bad news: that gay men have it worse than their lesbian peers, with some still fending off bullies in early adulthood. It’s something that surprised even Rivers, a gay man who has been researching bullying behavior for 20 years.

For the study, published February 4 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers questioned more than 4,100 British teens annually, until they were 20 years old. Initially, more than half of the 187 gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had been bullied; by 2010 that dropped to 9 percent for boys and 6 percent for girls.

The more “nuanced” results for gay young men, though, notes the study’s conclusion, showed that gay and bisexual young men were nearly four times more likely to be victimized than their straight male peers.

“Societal inhibitions about kicking the heck out of gay men are less than with other groups,” Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) told Yahoo! Shine. Byard said that a series of studies conducted by GLSEN about LGBT youth has shown, similarly, that rates of bullying lessen over the years, but that overall rates of bullying appears to be higher in the U.S.

She added that there are important reasons, beyond developmental changes, why harassment seems to lessen as teens move through middle school to high school.

“The key thing is that there are positive, proactive interventions that can be put into place,” Byard noted, including a supportive staff, anti-gay–bullying policies, the existence of gay-straight alliances in schools and a positive depiction of gay people in the curriculum. And it’s more likely, she explained, that these are in place at a high school rather than at a middle school level.

Still, reports of gay youth suicides have barely slowed; Josh Pacheco, 17, of Michigan, took his own life in November after reporting bullying, and 15-year-old Jadin Bell, of Oregon, died February 3, days after hanging himself in his school playground. LGBT youth are up to six times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to various reports. And a gay youth suicide helpline, operated by the Trevor Project, says it hears from about 30,000 callers a year.

Rivers said he had all this in mind when he first began his research into the subject. “In 1993, we knew so little about the developmental experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people that I decided it would be important to understand what role school played in a young person’s development, and how we could improve school to ensure that all young people were safe,” he said. “Alas, in 2013, we can see that there is still a great deal to be done.”