Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Some children and adolescents are aware of their attraction to members of the same gender by early adolescence, but awareness varies by culture and acculturation. Sexual orientation and gender identity are separate aspects of one’s experience; both may be fluid or complex. Some children and adolescents may spend a long time figuring out their sexual orientation or identity before feeling secure in it. Resources and supportive adults are scarce for children who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning); peer support is limited in rural areas and small towns.

Concerns and Issues Inside Schools

Because school personnel sometimes ignore or even encourage bullying and harassment of transgender and other gender-diverse students, such students may suffer from increased risk of mental health problems, suicidal ideation, substance use, high-risk sexual activity, and poor academic outcomes. For example, one study found that transgender high school students were eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than their peers.

Recent research indicates that gender and sexual orientation diverse students are at greater risk of mental health issues and academic problems when subjected to the following types of discrimination at school: 

(1) bullying and harassment

(2) a lack of administrative policies barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression 

(3) restrictions on the formation of gender and sexual orientation diverse-affirming student groups, and 

(4) a lack of trained staff.