Addressing LGBTQ Student Bullying in Massachusetts Schools: Perspectives of LGBTQ Students and School Health Professionals

  • Sari L. ReisnerEmail author
  • Lauren M. Sava
  • David D. Menino
  • Jeff Perrotti
  • Tia N. Barnes
  • D. Layne Humphrey
  • Ruslan V. Nikitin
  • Valerie A. Earnshaw


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth face disparities in bullying victimization are associated with higher rates of physical injury, psychological distress, and even suicide. Innovative strategies to address bullying victimization are needed to prevent adverse physical and mental health outcomes, including those engaging school health professionals (SHPs; school nurses, psychologists). This mixed-methods study sought to identify factors that facilitate or impede SHPs’ reporting and responding to LGBTQ bullying in Massachusetts from the perspectives of LGBTQ students and SHPs. Between August 2017 and July 2018, asynchronous online focus group discussions and a brief survey were conducted separately for 28 LGBTQ students and 19 SHPs in Massachusetts (9–12 participants per group; n = 47 enrolled). Focus groups probed on bullying experiences. Rapid qualitative inquiry was used for thematic coding of facilitators and barriers to address LGBTQ student bullying described by youth and SHPs. Facilitators and barriers largely coalesced around the social ecological model. Youth and SHPs identified factors at multiple levels of the social ecological model: (1) individual (knowledge, skills, attitudes); (2) interpersonal (trust and follow-through, confidentiality and fear of being “outed,” close relationships, champion SHPs); and (3) structural (school buy-in, time, reporting and protocols, staff roles, resources, and school culture of inclusivity). LGBTQ students expressed a need for an intersectional lens for SHPs when addressing LGBTQ student bullying. Interventions that help SHPs overcome multilevel barriers and leverage facilitators are needed. Consideration of intersectionality will better equip SHPs to support LGBTQ students and address disparities in LGBTQ student bullying that confer health risks.


Sexual and gender minorities Adolescent Schools Public health Bullying 



The authors thank Eli Godwin and the youth and community advisory board for their contributions on this study (alphabetical): Landon Callahan, Sonya Epstein, Opal Hines-Fisher, Lee Hoegler, Kira Houston, Karen Jarvis-Vance, Karen Rufo, and Rothsaida Sylviance.

Funding Information

This study was funded by Harvard Catalyst |The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health Award UL1 TR001102) and financial contributions from Harvard University and its affiliated academic healthcare centers. Dr. Valerie A. Earnshaw’s contributions were further supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (K01 DA042881). Funders were not involved in the study design; collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data; write up of the report; or decision to submit the article for publication. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University and its affiliated academic healthcare centers, or the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PediatricsHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Division of General PediatricsBoston Children’s HospitalBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of EpidemiologyHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  4. 4.The Fenway InstituteFenway HealthBostonUSA
  5. 5.Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ StudentsMassachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary EducationMaldenUSA
  6. 6.Human Development and Family SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  7. 7.Center for Research in Education and Social PolicyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  8. 8.Harvard Catalyst, Clinical and Translational Science CenterHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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