Prevention Science

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 813–821 | Cite as

School Practices to Foster LGBT-Supportive Climate: Associations with Adolescent Bullying Involvement

  • Amy L. Gower
  • Myriam Forster
  • Kari Gloppen
  • Abigail Z. Johnson
  • Marla E. Eisenberg
  • John E. Connett
  • Iris W. Borowsky


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth experience disproportionate rates of bullying compared to their heterosexual peers. Schools are well-positioned to address these disparities by creating supportive school climates for LGBT youth, but more research is needed to examine the variety of practices and professional development opportunities put in place to this end. The current study examines how school practices to create supportive LGBT student climate relate to student reports of bullying. Student-level data come from the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey, a state-wide survey of risk and protective factors. Ninth and eleventh grade students (N = 31,183) reported on frequency of physical and relational bullying victimization and perpetration and sexual orientation-based harassment. School administrators reported on six practices related to creating supportive LGBT school climate (N = 103 schools): having a point person for LGBT student issues, displaying sexual orientation-specific content, having a gay-straight alliance, discussing bullying based on sexual orientation, and providing professional development around LGBT inclusion and LGBT student issues. An index was created to indicate how many practices each school used (M = 2.45; SD = 1.76). Multilevel logistic regressions indicated that students attending schools with more supportive LGBT climates reported lower odds of relational bullying victimization, physical bullying perpetration, and sexual orientation-based harassment compared to students in schools with less supportive LGBT climates. Sexual orientation did not moderate these relations, indicating that LGBT-supportive practices may be protective for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation. Findings support school-wide efforts to create supportive climates for LGBQ youth as part of a larger bullying prevention strategy.


Lesbian, gay, bisexual youth School climate Bullying School practices 



Minnesota Student Survey data were provided by public school students in Minnesota via local public school districts and are managed by the Minnesota Student Survey Interagency Team.


Research reported in this publication was supported by a National Research Service Award (NRSA) in Primary Medical Care, Bureau of Health Professions, HRSA, DHHS (grant no. T32HP22239; PI: Borowsky), a Viking Children’s Fund Research Award (PI: Gower), and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award (grant no. UL1TR000114). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board at the University of Minnesota, which determined that this study was exempt from review, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Because the Minnesota Student Survey data were provided anonymously by the Minnesota Interagency Team for this secondary data analysis, formal consent was not required.


  1. Birkett, M., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. (2009). LGB and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 989–1000. Scholar
  2. Black, W. W., Fedewa, A. L., & Gonzalez, K. A. (2012). Effects of “Safe School” programs and policies on the social climate for sexual-minority youth: A review of the literature. Journal of LGBT Youth, 9, 321–339. Scholar
  3. Bradshaw, C. P., Waasdorp, T. E., Debnam, K. J., & Johnson, S. L. (2014). Measuring school climate in high schools: A focus on safety, engagement, and the environment. Journal of School Health, 84, 593–604. Scholar
  4. Bucchianeri, M. M., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2016). Youth experiences with multiple types of prejudice-based harassment. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 68–75.Google Scholar
  5. California Department of Education (Safe and Healthy Kids Program Office) and West Ed (Health and Human Development Department) (2015). California healthy kids survey. Retrieved from.
  6. Eisenberg, M. E., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., & Bucchianeri, M. (2015). Vulnerable bullies: Perpetration of peer harassment among youths across sexual orientation, weight, and disability status. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 1784–1791. Scholar
  7. Eisenberg, M. E., McMorris, B. J., Gower, A. L., & Chatterjee, D. (2016). Bullying victimization and emotional distress: Is there strength in numbers for vulnerable youth? Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 86, 13–19. Scholar
  8. Eisenberg, M. E., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., Rider, G. N., Shea, G., & Coleman, E. (2017). Risk and protective factors in the lives of transgender/gender non-conforming adolescent. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61, 521–526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (n.d.). GLSEN safe space kit: be an ALLY to LGBTQ Youth! Available at: Accessed 2 Feb 2017.
  10. Gloppen, K. M., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., & Eisenberg, M. E. (in press). Associations between peer harassment and school risk and protection profiles. Journal of School Health.
  11. Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L., & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority adolescents. Psychology in the Schools, 43, 573–589. Scholar
  12. Goodenow, C., Watson, R. J., Adjei, J., Homma, Y., & Saewyc, E. (2016). Sexual orientation trends and disparities in school bullying and violence-related experiences, 1993-2013. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3, 386–396. Scholar
  13. Gower, A. L., & Borowsky, I. W. (2013). Associations between frequency of bullying involvement and adjustment in adolescence. Academic Pediatrics, 13, 214–221.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2015). School-level contextual predictors of bullying and harassment experiences among adolescents. Social Science and Medicine, 147, 47–53. Scholar
  15. GroundSpark. (n.d.) Respect for all project. Available at: Accessed 2 Feb 2017.
  16. Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Keyes, K. M. (2013). Inclusive anti-bullying policies and reduced risk of suicide attempts in lesbian and gay youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, S21–S26. Scholar
  17. Heck, N. C., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. N. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly, 26, 161–174. Scholar
  18. Hong, J. S., & Espelage, D. L. (2012). A review of research on bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 311–322. Scholar
  19. Human Rights Campaign (n.d.) Welcoming schools: Creating safe and welcoming schools for all children and families. Available at: Accessed Accessed 2 Feb 2017.
  20. Institute of Medicine. (2011) The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  21. Jacobsen, K. E., & Bauman, S. (2007). Bullying in schools: School counselors’ responses to three types of bullying incidents. Professional School Counselling, 11, 1–9. Scholar
  22. Konishi, C., Saewyc, E., Homma, Y., & Poon, C. (2013). Population-level evaluation of school-based interventions to prevent problem substance use among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents in Canada. Preventive Medicine, 57, 929–933. Scholar
  23. Kosciw, J. G., Palmer, N. A., Kull, R. M., & Greytak, E. A. (2013). The effect of negative school climate on academic outcomes for LGBT youth and the role of in-school supports. Journal of School Violence, 12, 45–63. Scholar
  24. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.Google Scholar
  25. Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674–697. Scholar
  26. National Education Association (n.d.). Safe schools for everyone: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. Available at: Accessed 9 Feb 2017.
  27. National School Climate Council, 2007. The school climate challenge: Narrowing the gap between school climate research and school climate policy, practice guidelines, and teacher education policy. Retrieved from:
  28. Porta, C., Singer, E., Mehus, C. J., Gower, A. L., Saewyc, E., Fredkove, W., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2017). LGBTQ youth’s views on gay-straight alliances: Building community, providing gateways, and representing safety and support. Journal of School Health, 87, 489–497. Scholar
  29. Poteat, V. P. (2008). Contextual and moderating effects of the peer group climate on use of homophobic epithets. School Psychology Review, 37, 188–201.Google Scholar
  30. Poteat, V. P., Sinclair, K. O., DiGiovanni, C. D., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2013). Gay-straight alliances are associated with student health: A multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23, 319–330. Scholar
  31. Russell, S. T. (2011). Challenging homophobia in schools: Policies and programs for safe school climates. Educar em Revista, 39, 123–138. Scholar
  32. Russell, S. T., Kosciw, J., Horn, S., & Saewyc, E. (2010). Safe schools policy for LGBTQ students. Social Policy Report, 24, 3–17.Google Scholar
  33. Russell, S. T., Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescent school victimization: Implications for young adult health and adjustment. Journal of School Health, 81, 223–230. Scholar
  34. Russell, S. T., Sinclair, K. O., Poteat, P., & Koenig, B. W. (2012). Adolescent health and harassment based on discriminatory bias. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 493–495. Scholar
  35. Savage, T. A., & Schanding Jr., T. (2013). Creating and maintain safe and responsive schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youths: Introduction to the special issue. Journal of School Violence, 12, 1–6. Scholar
  36. Southern Poverty Law Center (2017). Teaching tolerance: Best practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive school climate. Available at: Accessed 2 Feb 2017.
  37. Srabstein, J. C., & Merrick, J. (2013). Bullying: A public health concern. New York: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  38. Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D'Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research, 83, 357–385. Scholar
  39. Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 187–196. Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy L. Gower
    • 1
  • Myriam Forster
    • 1
  • Kari Gloppen
    • 1
  • Abigail Z. Johnson
    • 2
  • Marla E. Eisenberg
    • 1
  • John E. Connett
    • 3
  • Iris W. Borowsky
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of PediatricsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Annex Teen ClinicRobbinsdaleUSA
  3. 3.Biostatistics, School of Public HealthUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations