LGBTQ Student Victimization and Its Relationship to School Discipline and Justice System Involvement

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
Subject MatterArticles
LGBTQ Student Victimization
and Its Relationship to School
Discipline and Justice System
Neal A. Palmer
and Emily A. Greytak
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students experience higher rates of school-
based victimization than their peers, and this victimization contributes to higher risk of suicide,
substance misuse, mental disorder, and unsafe sexual experiences. In addition, these experiences
may increase LGBTQ students’ interactions with school authorities and, subsequently, increase
their risk of school discipline and involvement in the justice system. Using a sample of 8,215 LGBTQ
middle and high school students in the United States surveyed online in 2015, this article explores
the relationships between peer victimization and higher school disciplinary and justice system
involvement among LGBTQ youth. Results indicate that LGBTQ youth who are victimized at school
experience greater school discipline, including disciplinary referrals to school administration, school
detention, suspension, and expulsion; and greater involvement in the justice system as a result of
school discipline, including arrest, adjudication, and detention in a juvenile or adult facility. More-
over, school staff responses to victimization partially explain this relationship: Students reporting
that staff responded to victimization in a discriminatory or unhelpful fashion experienced higher
rates of school discipline and justice system involvement than those reporting that staff responded
more effectively. Schools must confront pervasive anti-LGBTQ victimization and ineffective or
biased responses from school staff to reduce unnecessary disciplinary involvement.
exclusionary discipline, sexual minority, gender minority, school-to-prison pipeline
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals e xperience high rates of
victimization across the life course (e.g., Greytak, Kosciw, Villenas, & Giga, 2016; Hughes,
Johnson, Steffen, Wilsnack, & Everett, 2014; Roberts, Austin, Corliss, Vandermorris, & Koenen,
2010). For LGBTQ youth, these experiences are associated with numerous poor outcomes, such as
CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, New York, NY, USA
GLSEN, New York, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Neal A. Palmer, CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, 10 E 34th St, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10016, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2017, Vol. 42(2) 163-187
ª2017 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817704698
depression, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation and behavior, poor academic performance, and risk
behaviors (Institute of Medicine, 2011; Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, Villenas, & Danischewski, 2016). In
addition, emerging evidence suggests that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of school discipline and
justice system involvement, due in part to school and societal discrimination, biased school and law
enforcement policies, family rejection, and housing instability (Kosciw et al., 2016; Snapp &
Russell, 2016; Poteat, Scheer, & Cong, 2016a; Wilson, Cooper, Kastanis, & Nezhad, 2014). The
current study uses a national sample of 8,215 LGBTQ students attending middle and high schools in
2014–2015 in the United States to explore how school- based victimization may play a role in
LGBTQ youths’ higher risk of school discipline and justice system involvement. In addition to
examining the relationships among peer victimization and discipline and justice involvement, we
explore the potential role of educators’ response to students’ reports of such victimization.
Rates of LGBTQ Student Victimization
Over the past two decades, a substantial body of research has documented the higher rates of victi-
mization experienced by LGBTQ people at nearly all stages of life (e.g.,Greytak et al., 2016; Hughes
et al., 2014; Roberts et al.,2010). For instance, bisexual men are more likelythan heterosexual men to
have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking, and lesbian and bisexual women are also
more likely than heterosexual women to have experienced these events (Walters, Chen, & Breiding,
2013). Among LGBTQ adults, those who identify as transgender are twice as likely as those identify-
ing as cisgender (i.e., a person whose gender identity is aligned with the sex they were assigned at
birth) to experienceintimate partner violence (Waters,2016). In addition, a third of the respondents in
a 2016 study of transgender adults had experienced verbal harassmentor disrespect in a place of public
accommodation (James et al., 2016; also see Herman, 2013).
These alarming statistics extend to young people as well. By some measures, LGBTQ youth are
twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ peers to be victimized at school. A national study of youth ages
13–17 published in 2011 found that 51%of LGBT
youth had been verbally harassed at school in the
past year compared to 25%of non-LGBT students, and 17%of LGBT youth had been physically
assaulted, kicked, or shoved, compared to 10%of their peers (Human Rights Campaign, 2011).
Similarly, a nationally representative study of youth in 2010–2011 found that 59%of LGBTQ
students had been bullied or harassed at school in the past year, compared to 38%of non-
LGBTQ students (GLSEN, Center for Innovative Public Health Research, & Crimes Against Chil-
dren Research Center, 2013). Disparities were even more pronounced for bullying/harassment
online and by text message (GLSEN et al., 2013). Other recent national data from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) revealed that LGB youth
were more likely than non-LGB youth to be bullied at school (34%vs. 19%) and online (28%vs.
14%; Kann et al., 2016). Finally, another recent national survey found that 89%of LGBTQ students
had experienced any type of victimization at school in the past year (including a wider array of types
of victimization such as relational aggression, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment) versus 71%of
non-LGBTQ students (Greytak et al., 2016).
LGBTQ students may experience higher rates of victimization because their sexual and gender
identities violate norms pertaining to heterosexual behavior and binary gender roles. The same
national study of young people found that 67%of LGBTQ students said they had experienced peer
victimization in the past year specifically because of their sexual orientation and 60%because of
their gender expression (Greytak et al., 2016). In fact, sexual orientation and gender identity/expres-
sion may be undifferentiated by perpetrators: When aggression is aimed against an LGBTQ person,
perpetrators may be responding to the typically more visible manifestation of gender than to the
victim’s sexual orientation, which may be reflected in private, personal interactions more than in
outwardly visible behaviors. To this point, cisgender LGB individuals whose gender expression is
164 Criminal Justice Review 42(2)

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