LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

LGBTQIA people face many forms of discrimination. As with any form of discrimination, these directly affect students’ self-esteem, as well as school attendance and performance. For more information, check out the extensive research GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) has done on LGBTQIA students and parents. Discrimination can be overt, such as addressing an LGBTQIA person with a slur, or can be smaller microagressions, meaning small, subtle instances that may not be intentional, but still affect a person’s feelings of safety, welcome, and self-worth, such as saying “that’s so gay” when you don’t like something. This section will explain some of these forms of discrimination and offer examples.

Heteronormativity and Homophobia

The assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and the basis for judging others.


  • Because our society is heteronormative, we generally assume that when a boy says “I’m in love!,” he means he is in love with a girl.
  • When a female coworker comes to school with a ring on her left ring finger, people assume she is engaged to a man.
Discrimination against queer people based on heteronormativity.


  • Assuming all your coworkers are heterosexual and cisgender, and making a joke about a queer and/or transgender person, such as calling a trans celebrity a “he she”
  • Asking a female student if she is asking a boy to the school dance, even though you know she has a girlfriend.
A fear of, aversion to, and/or discrimination against queer people.

There are four types of interrelated homophobia:

  1. personal — prejudice towards queer people.
  2. interpersonal — this is what happens when personal homophobia is acted on, and can include name-calling, physical violence, the exclusion of queer people, etc.
  3. institutional — the ways schools, businesses, and other institutions discriminate against LGBTQ people. This can include exclusionary policies (not allowing same-sex couples to sign their partner up for health insurance) and practices (not allowing a lesbian couple to attend a prom, even if there is no official policy against it.)
  4. cultural — the unofficial cultural and social norms that define sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. In our society, the cultural norm is that heterosexuality is the norm. This type of homophobia may include things like TV shows primarily showing heterosexual couples or only having one stereotypically effeminate gay male character. These messages can have a big impact on LGBTQIA people, especially youth. If youth only see LGBTQIA people portrayed as strange or unusual, they will think of themselves as strange and unusual.

Source: Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, ed. Warren J. Blumenfeld (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).

More examples of homophobia

  • Using derogatory slurs, like “faggot” or “sissy boy”.
  • Not allowing a queer teenager to bring their date to a school dance.
  • Being afraid to enter a restroom with someone perceived as LGBTQIA.

These four categories also apply to transphobia, biphobia, intersexphobia, etc.

Other types of LGBTQIA discrimination

Discrimination against bisexual people. Bisexuals may face discrimination from heterosexuals, and from people in LGBTQIA communities who sometimes think they are just “on the fence” and should pick a side.


  • A bisexual girl attends her school’s GSA meeting, but when she talks about her boyfriend the other members become judgmental and say this is a club for queer people, not straights.
  • A bisexual boy attends one school dance with a girl, and beforehand goes to dinner with other heterosexual couples. When he attends a different dance with a boy, the same friends do not want to hang out with him and his date.
Discrimination against bisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, and other individuals who do not identify as either heterosexual or homosexual.


  • A girl telling a pansexual girl that she’s really a lesbian and should just accept it—that she’s not fooling anyone dating a boy.
  • The belief that bisexuals are promiscuous and will have relationships with everyone indiscriminately.
A fear of, aversion to, and/or discrimination against transgender people.


  • Not allowing a transgender boy to use the boys restroom—instead insisting he should use the restroom that matches his “real gender.”
  • Not allowing a transgender girl to play on the girl’s soccer team.
Discrimination against transgender people, based on a belief that they are inferior to cisgender people


  • Believing that transgender girls using the girls’ locker room will increase the chances of sexual abuse.
A fear of, aversion to, discrimination against, and/or negative attitudes and feelings towards intersex people based on their sex traits, which do not conform to binary views of biological sex.

Intersexphobia is so deeply embedded into our culture that society has sought to erase intersex peoples’ existence through harmful, non-consensual “normalizing” surgeries. Intersex advocates do not condone this and they, as well as unbiased medical studies and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, have found this practice to be extremely harmful. Furthermore, because intersex is neither a gender identity or a sexual orientation, advocates have pointed out the need to add “intersex status” to anti-discrimination laws and policies.


  • A doctor trying to convince the parents of an intersex infant to consent to surgery to make the child look “like a real girl.”
  • Children teasing an intersex classmate and physically preventing the child from entering either the boys or girls restrooms.