A years-long study of kids as young as 10 finds that children who grow up to be gay are picked on much more than other kids, even before they identify their own sexual orientation.
Some 4,300 students in Houston, Los Angeles and Birmingham, Ala., were interviewed about bullying while in the 5th, 7th and 10th grades. The 10th graders were asked if they identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and the results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday.
The researchers then looked back at what those kids had said through the years about their experiences being hit, threatened, called names or excluded.
Overall, many of the nearly 4,300 students surveyed said they were bullied, especially at younger ages. But the 630 gay and bisexual children suffered it more.
The researchers found 13 percent of them were bullied weekly in fifth grade, compared with 8 percent of other kids. In both groups, the rates went down as the students got older – but the disparity persisted.
“In fifth grade, they already were bullied more than other kids” – even though, at that young age, many gay and bisexual kids haven’t discovered their own sexual orientation yet, said the lead author, Dr. Mark Schuster of Boston Children’s Hospital.
The teens who later identified as LGB were more than three times as likely to be bullied at least once a week as early as 5th grade. They were also 56 percent more likely than kids who later identified as straight to experience physical violence, threats of violence, nasty rumors and social exclusion at all three grade levels in the study.
It’s not the first time that results have shown that gay kids are perceived as “different” even before most of the bullies and bullied know what that means. A UK study last year found similar results, and gender nonconforming behaviors – effeminate boys or masculine girls – appear to be motivators in both studies.
The kids who turned out to be gay may also feel different enough from their peers that they are shy and less willing to engage socially, making them a target, a researcher tells CBS News.