Research Blog > New Report Shows High Rates of Bullying of LGBT Students in School Athletics
Over the past few years, national headlines have been dominated by stories of school bullying, especially of LGBT youth. The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently published a research brief on the experiences of LGBT students in school athletics. GLSEN’s analysis of data taken from the 2011 National School Climate Survey of 8,584 LGBT students suggests that bullying is of particular concern during physical education (P.E.) classes and on school sports teams.
More than half of LGBT students who took a P.E. class reported being bullied or harassed during the class because of their sexual orientation (52.8%) or gender expression (50.9%). Over a quarter of LGBT student athletes reported being harassed or assaulted while participating on a school sports team due to their sexual orientation (27.8%) or gender expression (29.4%). These experiences of victimization may help explain why approximately one third (32.5%) of LGBT students reported not attending their P.E. classes and almost a quarter (22.8%) avoided school athletics fields and facilities. LGBT students were also half as less likely than their heterosexual peers to be a part of school sports teams.
The missed benefits to LGBT youth who avoided P.E. and school sports was also highlighted in the GLSEN brief. LGBT students who played on a school sports team reported higher self-esteem, greater sense of belonging, and better academic performance when compared to non-athlete LGBT students. The benefits of participating in school athletics were even more marked for LGBT team leaders.
In addition to the benefits conferred to mental well-being, greater involvement in P.E. classes and school athletics could positively impact LGBT students’ physical health. In a report on health disparities of LGBT youth created by the IMPACT Program, one key finding was higher rates of disordered eating among LGB students. LGB students were more than twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to report vomiting in the past 30 days in order to lose weight. The disparity was especially striking among males with 27.4% of LGB males reporting vomiting in the past 30 days to lose weight in comparison to 6.1% of heterosexual males.
Participation in P.E. classes and school sports are a healthy alternative to purging as a means to lose weight. P.E. classes and school athletics are also often a source to learn about nutrition and the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise. Similarly, increased participation in school athletics may help combat the obesity epidemic that affects LGBT youth just as much as their heterosexual peers and reduce their future risk of obesity during adulthood.
Breaking down barriers to participation in school athletics faced by many LGBT students will require greater support to help these youth feel safe from victimization. The GLSEN brief found that LGBT students at schools with anti-bullying and harassment policies were less likely than those without these policies to experience bullying and harassment during P.E. class and school sports.
GLSEN (2013). The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics (Research Brief). New York: GLSEN.
Mustanski, B.S., Clifford, A., Bigelow, L., Andrews, K., Birkett, M.A., Ashbeck, A., & Fisher K. (2012). A Healthy Chicago for LGBT Youth: An IMPACT Program White Paper on Health Disparities in Chicago’s LGBT Youth. Chicago, IL: The IMPACT Program at Northwestern University. Retrieved from http://www.impactprogram.org/youth/whitepaper.