Theirworld nationwide polling of U.S. LGBTQ+ Gen-Z youth uncovers students don’t feel safe, unreported bullying and discrimination in schools

Nationwide Poll of 1,008 LGBTQ+ Gen Z Americans Finds Most Report Being Anxious, With Reports of Verbal Abuse and Harassment.

NEW YORK – A new nationwide poll of LGBTQ+ Gen-Z youth (ages 16-27) for the global children’s charity Theirworld has uncovered alarming rates of unreported bullying, with many not feeling safe or accepted by teachers. The Whitman Insight Strategies (WINS) survey of 1,008 respondents paints a stark picture of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S.

Key findings include:

  • Prevalent bullying: Over half (52%) have experienced bullying, with 13% reporting they were bullied by teachers or administrative staff because of their sexual orientation. 29% reported their personal school experience as negative.
  • Unreported bullying: 36% reported being bullied but not reporting it. Of those who did report it, half said that staff and teachers responded badly.
  • Unsafe school environments: 38% don’t think schools are safe environments for LGBTQ+ students.
  • Lack of acceptance: Nearly half (49%) feel they are not often accepted by teachers and administrators.
  • Personal safety concerns: A quarter (25%) of respondents feel personally unsafe in school.
  • Missed school: 35% have missed school at some point because of bullying, with 25% missing classes in the past 3 months alone, specifically because of bullying and/or discrimination about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Respondents reported being hit, punched and teased. Others complained of teachers ignoring their concerns and deliberately misgendering them.

A black lesbian woman from Ohio described school as “a place of dread rather than a place of learning”. She said: “As an LGBTQ+ individual in school, I faced a lot of challenges and discrimination. I was often called derogatory names and the target of hurtful jokes, which made me feel isolated and unwelcome. There were times I was excluded from social groups and activities, making it hard to find a sense of belonging. Some teachers overlooked or dismissed my needs, and the curriculum rarely included LGBTQ+ topics, further marginalizing me.”

A Hispanic pansexual woman in California said: “I was assaulted by males in the female locker room after gym in 7th grade. They were predominantly males who were dating females in my gym class. They thought I was trying to see their girlfriends naked. I just wanted to change and go to class.”

A black bisexual man from Ohio said: “I once had a teacher point at me during a Pep rally because I was expressing love to my boyfriend, but meanwhile a girl and boy were kissing just like us and they didn’t get in any trouble.”

Asked what form of bullying they faced, 64% reported verbal abuse, 33% cited online abuse, 26% faced threats of violence, 12% reported physical abuse and 12% reported being sexually assaulted. In addition, 25% said they had been purposely misgendered.

To help combat these issues and help children feel safer in schools, 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.

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.”


Notes to Editors

Additional anecdotes from respondents

  • A white gay male from Florida said: “Growing up as an LGBTQ+ student in school was incredibly challenging. I faced constant bullying and harassment from my peers. They would call me names, make derogatory remarks, and sometimes even resort to physical violence. It created a hostile and unsafe environment that made it difficult for me to focus on my studies or feel comfortable in school. I often felt isolated and excluded from social groups. It was hard to find friends who truly understood and accepted me. This loneliness was overwhelming at times.”
  • A bisexual black male in Florida said: “It was pretty scary. I never came out as bi in high school because I wasn’t going to put my safety at risk, but some of my classmates assumed I was. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it could be, but I always denied that I was, just to be safe if I would be subject to nasty bullying. No-one in my family knows and that’s good enough for me.”
  • A bisexual white female from Utah said: “I can’t say I speak for everyone’s experiences, but being a queer student attending school in Utah is difficult, to say the least. In my experience, I’ve been called homophobic slurs by other students or other community members in my city. Although my university provided safe spaces for queer and LGBTQ students, as of recently those offices have been shut down due to recent legislative action. It feels lonely to be an LGBTQ individual attending school in Utah.”

About the research

The poll was conducted online by Whitman Insight Strategies (WINS) from June 17–21, 2024. The sample comprises a nationally representative audience of 1,008 LGBTQ+ Gen Z Americans (ages 16-27). The margin of error is ± 3.09% among LGBTQ+ Gen Z Americans at the 95% confidence interval.

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.