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Overcoming Anti-Gay Harassment

Being gay or lesbian often means having to deal with prejudice and harassment from childhood on.

Gay and lesbian teens are often targets of bullying, harassment, and aggression. Anti-gay bullying can range from verbal abuse, such as name-calling, to life-threatening physical assault.

Even if young people escape physical violence, the effects of bullying can be psychologically devastating. Young bullying victims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) may engage in risky behaviors. They may start having sex with different partners. Or they may start abusing drugs and alcohol. LGBT kids and teens may skip school or even run away from home. Many suffer from depression. And some are driven to commit suicide.

Some victims of this kind of harassment may not even be gay. Some can become targets simply because their peers think they are gay.

Young man sitting against a wall in school hallway

For students dealing with harassment

The most important step in dealing with anti-gay harassment is to believe in who you are. The bullying isn’t your fault. And you should not have to change to please anyone, or to be accepted by other people. Understand that you are not to blame for other people’s prejudices, hatred, or actions.

If you are being bullied or harassed about your sexual orientation, take steps to put an end to the bullying right away. Don’t fight back or make threats. Simply tell the bully to stop. Leave the situation and seek help if you are being physically attacked or fear that you could be.

Try the following:

  • Protect yourself until you can get away.

  • Stay with a friend who can offer protection or get help when needed.

  • Tell a trusted adult about what is happening.

  • Go to a safe area such as the library or a teacher’s classroom if you are threatened.

How LGBT adults can stay safe

  • When out in public, stay alert and trust your instincts.

  • When walking, plan the safest and most direct route.

  • Carry a whistle to attract attention in case you feel threatened.

  • Cross the street, change direction, or run into a crowd if you sense danger.

Don't deny that the problem exists

It can be easy to brush off harassment or bullying after the fact, once you're safe and the confrontation has ended. But you don't need—or deserve—to live in fear or to minimize the trauma. Address the issue by reporting the harassment to administrators or teachers, or to the police.

It's normal to feel ashamed after a traumatic bullying experience. But it's also normal to feel angry, afraid, confused, or even numb. There is no right or wrong way to react to harassment. It will help to talk with a trusted friend, counselor, or therapist. Bullying or harassing people about their sexual orientation is never acceptable, funny, or appropriate. If you see it happening, speak out. And if it happens to you, seek help. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
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