Survey reveals widespread unreported bullying and discrimination among LGBTQ+ youth in schools

  • Almost half of pupils have been bullied or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and one in four due to their gender identity during their time in education
  • Half did not report the bullying or discrimination they experienced. Students report being kicked, sexually assaulted and driven to suicidal thoughts
  • Theirworld has launched a global youth task force on safe schools for LGBTQ+ youth

Almost half (47%) of LGBTQ+ youth in the UK have been bullied and/or discriminated against at school or university because of their sexual orientation – but many never reported it, according to new research published today

A further one in four (25%) LGBTQ+ pupils have faced bullying and/or discrimination due to their gender identity, the YouGov poll for the global children’s charity Theirworld found.

But half (49%) did not report the bullying to anyone. Of those who did report it to staff, more than seven in 10 (72%) said that staff responded badly, according to the survey of 545 LGBTQ+ youth aged 16-24 in the UK.

The findings suggest that despite undeniable progress in LGBTQ rights, young people continue to face prejudice and discrimination in environments where they should feel secure and protected.

Respondents reported being locked in toilets, kicked, verbally and sexually abused, and, in some cases, driven to suicidal thoughts. Others complained of teachers purposefully misgendering and mocking them in the classroom in front of pupils. One respondent said she was so terrified of using the toilets during the school day that she deliberately “dehydrated” herself.

Another said: “When I came out as a lesbian in 2013, I had a brick thrown at my face and told I was a f****t. I was ostracised by my female peers who would hide when I got changed for PE.”

Others complained of teachers turning a blind eye to the bullying. One student said: I was added to a group chat of students where I was outed to the full year group and subsequently bullied, called slurs and names daily. Most teachers ignored the bullying especially if it was in their classroom. They would mock my gender and discuss my identity with other students in a negative way.”

Asked what form of bullying or discrimination they faced, more than seven in 10 (73%) said verbal abuse, more than half (53%) cited harassment, almost a third (31%) reported online abuse, a quarter (24%) reported threats of violence, more than one in seven (16%) said physical abuse, and one in seven (15%) said sexual abuse. A further one in five (19%) said they were purposefully misgendered.

Overall, more than one in four (27%) of LGBTQ+  said they felt or currently feel unsafe in secondary school – more than four times as many as those who attended or attended university or college (6%) and three times as many as those who had attended or currently attend sixth-form college (9%)

Nirvana Yarger, 26, a primary school teacher from London and a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld, who identifies as queer, said the research showed a worrying regression in attitudes towards LGBTQ+ young people.

“I was a classroom teacher from 2020 to 2022 and felt there was a more inclusive atmosphere towards being an LGBTQ+ member in schools,” she said. “I’m now married to a woman, and if I were still teaching in a school, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling the children, whereas, back then, I would have.

If an adult teacher feels that it is unsafe in 2024 to have their sexual orientation known, I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for our young people

Nirvana Yarger, 26, Global Youth Ambassador

Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld, said that learning in a safe environment was a fundamental right that all children and young people deserved.

“It’s unacceptable that LGBTQ+ youth continue to face bullying and discrimination in schools—the very place where they should feel secure and safe,” said van Fleet, who was recently included in PoliticsNY’s list of LGBTQ+ Power Players, recognising leaders driving positive change throughout New York and across the US.

“Schools must be inclusive environments where every child feels valued and respected. That’s why we’ve launched a youth task force to directly address safe schools for LGBTQ+ youth.”

Theirworld has launched a global youth task force on safe schools for LGBTQ+ youth. The task force will focus on issues of safe campaigning in challenging contexts and allow LGBTQ+ youth leaders and their allies to have a powerful platform and network to advocate for more inclusive education policies in communities around the world.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact Nicole Martin, [email protected] 07768 695 087

About Theirworld

Theirworld is a global children’s charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation. Its mission is to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and the skills they need for the future.

About the research

YouGov polled 545 people aged 16-24 in the UK between June 11 – 18th 2024. 337 were still in education.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all LGBTQ+ 16-24s in UK. 

Respondent quotes

  • Staff intentionally misgendered me and my friends. The bullying was not dealt with because the person bullying me was favoured by said staff. Police were involved but couldn’t do much, online posts of me still exist now even 5 years later she received zero punishment. This was in person harassment, physical punching and pushing, discrimination against my disability (I’m autistic) and my gender identity.”
  • When i came out as a lesbian in 2013 i had a brick thrown at my face and screamed at that i was a faggot. i was ostracised by my female peers and refused to get changed for PE with them as they would all hide. I am not publicly out as nonbinary.”
  • The school bathrooms were the worst and I got pushed into a sink once. I used to get girls giggling and looking under the bathroom doors or making comments to my face on occasion when I tried to use the bathroom. I got so uncomfortable I started to deliberately dehydrate myself so that I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom during school hours. I used to get misgendered by older teachers who said would use my old name and old pronouns in front of the class which made my classmates mess up and get it wrong more because they were confused by some teachers doing it wrong in front of them (which I never thought of a bullying but it made it my time at school a lot harder). I used to get harassed by a boy on the school bus who would make fun of me for being different, for never dating anyone and for getting upset when people would touch me. He would tell me that no one would ever love me because of how I looked/dressed/acted and because of my touch aversion, which hurt a lot even though I’m asexual. I begged my parents to stop making me come home on the bus in the end as I was too scared to us it, so I stopped using the bus. I stopped going to PE due to the changing rooms being so uncomfortable and the gendered classes. I was so uncomfortable in PSE during the sex ed module that I only went to one class, I was young and found it overwhelming and too much to have to attend the lessons.
  • Regularly purposefully misgendered, added to a group chat of students where I was outed to the full year group and subsequently bullied, called slurs and names daily, most teachers ignored bullying especially if it was in their classroom, told to kill myself multiple times a week, teachers that would tell me ‘I see you as a girl’, my gender being mocked by teachers, teachers discussing my identity with other students in a negative way. I was told my identity wasn’t real by teachers and students. Students would threaten to hurt me, I was isolated from a lot of my friends as they didn’t want to be bullied too. I ended up working with CAMHS due to the massive impact on my mental health.”
  • I was regularly beaten up, I was stalked home, I was spat on, I had bloody tampons put in my food, someone pissed on my PE kit, I was sexually assaulted.”
  • Got food thrown at me most days for being gay by the same group of boys for my entire time at secondary school (I didn’t come out until college). Followed into the toilets, used to whack in the doors when i was in them. Lots of verbal abuse surrounding being gay and ginger! Hated secondary school for these reasons and essentially caused me to develop a dreadful eating disorder for the next 4 years!