Homophobia & Teen Suicide



Efforts to address homophobic and transphobic bullying in middle school have acquired a new urgency in the light of recent teen suicides. Many of these efforts have focused on sexual orientation or (to a lesser extent) gender identity. Yet in doing so they may have overlooked the real cause, which is intolerance for gender non-conformity.

Gender norms

Research has found that middle school bullying and homophobic taunting is inextricably tied to masculine and feminine gender norms. Boys are targeted because they don't fit prevailing ideals of masculinity, and girls because they don't fit ideals of femininity. LGBT youth who are themselves gay or transgender, but who reported strongly that the atmosphere of daily intolerance in which they are bullied and in which teen suicides happen is also about gender non-conformity.


After a year of tracking homophobic middle school taunting, research shows that the use of such epithets- against gay and straight students - is less about sexual orientation than policing masculinity and punishing those who don't fit manhood ideals. And they believe is directly linked to teen suicides.

Teen suicide

To better understand connections between gender non-conformity, middle-school bullying and teen suicides, the Bruce W. Bastian Foundation provided support for a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with LGBTQ students in Salt Lake City who had themselves been bullied, as well as an extensive literate review of current studies.

Utah was chosen because it has consistently had one of the nation's highest rates of teen and adolescent suicide, often linked to homophobic taunting and bullying.

Main findings:

  • Public, parents, and teachers fail to grasp the connection between gender non-conformity, bullying and teen suicide

  • Many don't see a problem with bullying triggered by intolerance of students' gender non-conformity

  • Students want authority figures to "get it" about their gender expression

  • Students feel re-victimized when they seek support from adults

  • Students experience lack of recognition

  • School authorities need training in recognizing gender-based bullying

  • Students link erasure of their identity and bullying to teen suicides


School officials, parents, and advocacy groups need to stop thinking of such suicides as a result of discrete actions by particular individuals which are prompted by victims' sexual orientation and can be observed and punished.