A Retrospective Examination of LGBTQ Students’ Perceptions of Physical Education


  • Jamie O'Connor University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign




Approximately twice as many self-identified LGBTQ high school students report being bullied on school property than their heterosexual peers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). Unfortunately, students who experience peer harassment are at an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Given that physical education is a context in which students should feel safe to explore health-enhancing behaviors, it is important to examine how LGBTQ students perceive this unique environment. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to qualitatively explore LGBTQ college students’ perceptions of high school physical education. Six undergraduate students identifying as LGBTQ consented to participate in the IRB-approved study. Participants were formally interviewed for 30 to 60 minutes using a semi-structured interview guide grounded in a social-ecological framework (Espelage & Swearer, 2004). Results indicate that participants remembered high school physical education as a toxic setting in which peer harassment was the norm. Participants also described that physical education teachers were ill equipped to address homophobic bullying, often ignoring its occurrence in both the gym and the locker room. The results of this investigation will hopefully illuminate the unique social-ecological reality that LGBTQ students face in the physical education setting. 

Keywords: physical education, bullying, peer harassment, LGBTQ