Does It Get Better? Kind of

LGB bullying decreases as kids age but remains higher than bullying of straight people

Gay and lesbian role models often tell gay and lesbian youth that it gets better as you get older. Is it true? Well, there's good news and bad news.

The good news, according to a new study, is that yes, overall, bullying of both gay and lesbian and of straight teens may go down as they all grow up.

The bad news is that gay or bisexual boys still remain more likely to be bullied than straight boys when they're young adults.

Meanwhile, girls may be no more or less likely to be bullied as young adults, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Report any bullying you see.

The study, led by Joseph P. Robinson, PhD, of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looked at how often homosexual youths are bullied and whether that bullying is linked to their later emotional health.

The researchers followed 4,135 participants from 2004, when they were 13 and 14 years old, through 2010, when they were 19 and 20 years old. This group included 187 youths who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB).

The participants were interviewed every year during that time, either in person, over the phone or online. They were asked whether they had been called names, been threatened, been physically assaulted or experienced other forms of victimization.

During the second and fourth years, the participants were asked about feelings of depression.

For the first four years, the participants' parents and teachers were also interviewed.

The greatest frequency of bullying during the study occurred in the first year, when the kids were 13 and 14 years old, and it decreased for all the students throughout the course of the study.

This reduction occurred among boys and girls, straight and LGB.

Among gay or bisexual boys, 52 percent were bullied in the first year, and this amount dropped to 9 percent by the seventh year of the study.

The bullying among lesbian or bisexual girls dropped from 57 percent in the first year of the study to 6 percent in the last year.

However, gay or bisexual boys were still more likely to be bullied than straight boys throughout all years of the study, though the risk of being bullied changed over that time.

During the first year, gay or bisexual boys were almost 80 percent more likely to be bullied than straight boys. By the last year of the study, gay or bisexual boys were four times more likely to be bullied than straight boys.

The pattern of bullying among girls was the opposite of that among boys -- the likelihood that lesbian or bisexual girls would be bullied dropped over the course of the study.

In the first year, lesbian or bisexual girls were about twice as likely as straight girls to be bullied, but by the last year, they were about equally likely to be bullied as straight girls.

The researchers also found a small link between the bullying LGB students experienced and higher levels of emotional distress. LGB individuals tended to exhibit more emotional distress when they were young adults than straight individuals.

However, this finding was problematic because the researchers did not measure whether the participants were "out" or not (at any point in the study), and the findings may be specific to culture or other factors.

Still, the results suggest that decreasing bullying of LGB teens or making school climates more supportive of LGB youth may help improve their emotional health later, the researchers wrote.

The study was published February 4 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.