Bullying Explains Only Part of LGBTQ-Heterosexual Risk Disparities: Implications for Policy and Practice

Joseph P. Robinson, Dorothy L. Espelage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) experience higher rates of victimization by bullying than do their heterosexual-identified peers. In this article, we investigate the extent to which this difference in rates of victimization can explain LGBTQ youths' greater rates of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and unexcused absences from school. Our sample consisted of 11,337 students in Grades 7 through 12 from 30 schools in Dane County, Wisconsin. Using both multilevel covariate-adjusted models and propensity-score-matching models, we found that although victimization does explain a portion of the LGBTQ-heterosexual risk disparities, substantial differences persist even when the differences in victimization are taken into account. For example, LGBTQ-identified students were 3.3 times as likely to think about suicide (p < .0001), 3.0 times as likely to attempt suicide (p = .007), and 1.4 times as likely to skip school (p = .047) as propensity-score-matched heterosexual-identified students within the same school who reported equivalent levels of peer victimization. Moreover, in our propensity-score-matched samples, we found substantial differences in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts at both higher and lower levels of victimization. This consistent pattern of findings suggests that policies aimed simply at reducing bullying may not be effective in bringing LGBTQ youth to the level of their heterosexual peers in terms of psychological and educational outcomes. Additional policies may be needed to promote safe, supportive school environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-319
Number of pages11
JournalEducational Researcher
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • equity
  • gay/lesbian studies
  • hierarchical linear modeling
  • propensity score matching
  • stress/coping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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