What to Do If Your Child Is Bullied Because of Their Sexual Orientation

Side view of high school girl in illuminated corridor. She is against metallic lockers.

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Picture this: your child comes home from school, their face drawn, hands gripped together. As you walk back from the bus stop, you stop to ask what's wrong. In a small voice they tell you: Someone made fun of them because one of their "friends" told the class they were gay.

Alternatively, you might go to your child's room to say goodnight, and find them crying in bed. A quick survey of their phone shows that they are a victim of cyberbullying by one of their peers, and the hurtful comments center around their sexuality.

The Trevor Project, a leader in LGBTQ+ youth resources, defines bullying as, "Aggressive, repetitive behavior that is based on a real and/or perceived power differential." StopBullying.gov explains that kids who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be targeted by bullying.

As parents, we always want to keep our children safe and happy. It begs the question: What can parents say when their kids are bullied for their sexual orientation? Ahead, experts break down the best way to respond in order to support and advocate for children who are the victims of this type of bullying.

How Bullying Affects LGBTQ+ Kids

School can be a challenging environment for children who identify as LGBTQ+, especially if they are harassed, discriminated against, or face a lack of resources. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, queer children are bullied at nearly double the rate (32%) of those who identify as straight (17.1%). The Trevor Project recently released a study indicating that the majority of LGBTQ+ youth reported being bullied in 2021, either in school or online. In this this challenging environment, what can parents do?

Zishan Khan, MD, a child psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, explains that bullying often results in a child feeling isolated. It's up to parents to show their children that they are not alone.

"Provide reassurance to the child that they will always be loved unconditionally by their family," Dr. Khan says. "It is crucial to make certain that your child know that there are plenty of people that care about them."

Patrick Foreman, LMFT and clinical director at Embark, adds that empathy and understanding are crucial when speaking to your child about bullying. "Remind your child that you are there to help them," he adds.

When offering guidance to your child, Dr. Khan advises to be an active listener so that your child knows they can always come to you with their worries.

How Can My Child Respond to Bullies?

Parents part ways with their children at at the drop-off line or bus stop, so it's important to give them the language and resources to speak to bullies on their own while at school.

Dr. Khan says that the best way for parents to help their children is teaching them how to disengage from a damaging situation, and seek the support of a friend, teacher, or counselor. "The best way to respond to a bully in the moment is to try not to engage them further," Dr. Khan explains.

Brandi Garza, LPC at Mindpath Health, also notes that parents should teach their children to verbally stand up for themselves while actively disengaging. "Phrases like 'don’t talk to me like that' or 'stop harassing me' should be practiced," she says.

Should I Tell the School?

If the bullying comes from a classmate, it is important parents discuss it with the school administration, teachers, and/or counselors. School should be a safe environment, and it's beneficial for your child's educators to be aware of any situation that might threaten a student's safety.

"Parents should realize that their children’s school is the best place to implement change and offer further support outside of their home," Dr. Khan explains. "It may also be necessary to have a school resource officer made aware of the situation, in case the bullying becomes physical in nature."

Parents can encourage their children to join a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at their school—or form one themselves with their friends. Students in schools with active GSA chapters report fewer homophobic remarks, better intervention from education personnel, and a greater feeling of acceptance, Dr. Khan notes.

It's also essential to know your child's legal rights as they pertain to bullying. "Every state has bully laws," Garza points out, adding that school districts typically list those policies in their code of conduct or a student handbook. Knowing these laws can help parents make informed decisions about responding to isolated or ongoing instances of bullying.

What Should I Do If the Bullying Continues?

If the bullying persists even after attempting to diffuse the situation, it is important for parents and caregivers to escalate the conversation. Garza recommends formal reporting to the child's school, complete with any documentation you might be able to compile, such as screenshots if the bullying is happening online.

It's important to be proactive if your child comes to you after repeated instances of bullying. "If no one takes further action when the bullying continues, it only reinforces the child's [false] belief that they are all alone, especially if there are no consequences for the bully," Dr. Khan warns.

While it might sound extreme, Garza explains that involving law enforcement might be the safest option in places hostile to LGBTQ+ youth. She advises parents to continue escalating their reports if they feel the school is not responsive to their concerns.

"In cases of cyberbullying, parents should be aware that they have a right to contact police," Garza adds. This also helps establish a paper trail in the event your child isn't the only one being bullied.

Dr. Khan urges parents to exercise caution if they consider speaking to the caregivers of the bullies themselves, particularly surrounding issues of LGBTQ+ discrimination. Some parents might be appalled by their child's actions, but for others, it's unfortunately possible that the bully's behavior is a direct result of how they have been raised and taught in their own household.

Frighteningly, LGBTQ+ children are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It is thus extremely important to keep an open dialogue with your child about bullying, both in school and online. If you suspect your child is struggling with depression or anxiety, please be sure to reach out to a therapist, their pediatrician, or healthcare provider. If you are worried that your child is experiencing suicidal ideation, do not hesitate to contact a crisis center, such as dialing 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The Trevor Project also provides LGBTQ+ youth a way to talk with a trained counselor.

A Word From Verywell

Children who identify as LGBTQ+ can face additional challenges with regard to bullying compared to their straight, cisgender peers. When children come to you for help and support, it's important to listen, and in certain circumstances, reach out to their schools for help.

The Trevor Project provides resources designed to help crate safe spaces in schools for LGBTQ+ youth. Parents can find further information about helping LGBTQ+ children through the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). As always, if you have concerns about your child's mental health, please be sure to reach out to a therapist, counselor, their pediatrician, or healthcare provider.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Trevor Project. Bullying.

  2. Stopbullying.gov. LGBTQI+ Youth.

  3. The Trevor Project. Creating Safer Places in Schools for LGBTQ Youth.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance - United States, 2019.

  5. The Trevor Project. Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth.

  6. Johns MM, Lowry R, Andrzejewski J, et al. Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — 19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:67–71. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6803a3.

By Taylor Grothe
Taylor is a freelance writer, fiction author, and a nonbinary parent to two little children, ages five and three. Their fiction work can be found in Bag of Bones Press and Coffin Bell Journal, and their first novel is on submission to major publishing houses.