Bullying Faced By Gay & Bisexual Students Can Alter Development, Pitt Study Finds

Feb 1, 2016

A new study out of the Pitt School of Public Health found that bullying has a significant impact on a student's development.
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Gay and bisexual adolescents in U.S. schools are twice as likely to be bullied as their heterosexual peers, which could hinder development.

That’s according to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

A total of 1,870 students were surveyed. Of those, 127 students identified themselves as being either gay or bisexual, and of those students, 24 percent reported being victims of bullying. Only 12 percent of heterosexual students reported the same.

The survey evaluated positive youth development using a model called the “Five Cs,” which stands for competence, confidence, connection, character and compassion, according to Robert Coulter, a Pitt doctoral student and the study’s lead author.

Sexual-minority students scored much lower than heterosexual students in the competence, confidence and connection categories, which Coulter attributed to the effects of bullying.

“Our analyses suggest that lower positive youth development, in and among sexual-minority youths, is not because of their sexual orientation, but instead is because of their greater likelihood of being victims of bullying,” he said.

Sexual-minority adolescents are the subject of more bullying because of the prejudice they face, Coulter said.

“One thing I truly believe is that stigma and discrimination are likely the root causes of these disparities that we’re seeing [with] sexual orientation," he said. “Bullying is one manifestation of stigma and discrimination, but there are larger processes that also need to be altered.”

The issue of discrimination reaches beyond schools.

“We need to get all stakeholders in the community involved, to reduce bullying victimization,” Coulter said. “This includes school personnel, families as well as communities and governments.” 

He added that he wants the study, to promote discussion and change.

“I hope that (the study is) well-received in our area,” Coulter said. “I hope that this contributes to the larger conversation on the need to design and evaluate interventions that focus on reducing bullying for sexual-minority youths and also focuses on increasing positive youth development.”

The study was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health and National 4-H Council. It will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Public Health.