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  • Microaggressions (Nadal et al, 2017): they are subtle slights, invalidations, and insults that target people because of their actual or perceived membership in a marginalized group, in this case, the LGBTQ+. Microaggressions, sometimes, tend to be unconscious and difficult to identify because of their ambiguous character.
  • Gender identity microaggressions (Nadal, 2018): specific type of microaggression related to gender identity. For example: denial of gender identity, misuse of pronouns, invasion of bodily privacy, behavioural discomfort, or denial of social transphobia.
  • Sexual orientations microaggressions (Nadal, 2018): specific type of microaggression related to sexual orientation. For example: use of heterosexist terminology, endorsement of heteronormative or gender-conforming culture and behaviours, discomfort/disapproval of LGBTQ and other sexualities (such as: pansexual, asexual, demisexual…) experiences, denial of the reality of heterosexism, (5) assumption of pathology or sexual deviation…
  • Microassaults (Sue et al., 2017): they are considered intentional; they intend to harm through insults, avoidance behaviours, or deliberately discriminatory actions.
  • Microinsults (Sue et al., 2017): are verbalizations that convey discourtesy and insensitivity and that denigrate the identity of a person. Although often unintentional, micro-accusations can offend or ridicule the recipient.
  • Microinvalidations (Sue et al., 2017): they are communications that deny or nullify the thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of LGBTQ+ people.


At present, it is not so common for most people to perform conscious, hostile, and discriminatory open-minded acts towards LGBTQ+ community. Many people believe that they are not prejudiced towards this group or hold discriminatory attitudes/behaviours. However, different studies show that a lot of people act based on implicit biases (unconscious and unknown), which affect the way they perceive and relate to others (Greenwald et al., 2019).

Due to the often involuntary and ambiguous nature of microaggressions, both, those who commit them and those who witness them may tend to deny or minimize the damage they cause. In fact, when these attitudes are pointed out/questioned, aggressors often attempt to justify their comments and/or actions as a joke or misunderstanding, when they constitute subtle forms of discrimination.

This type of aggression and its perpetuation over time contribute to deteriorate the mental health of the group and individuals towards whom it is directed. For example, heterosexist microaggressions have been associated with lower self-acceptance and greater psychological distress, as well as with post-traumatic stress symptoms (Woodford, Kulic, Sinco, & Hong, 2014). In addition, microaggressions directed towards gender minorities (Robinson, 2014) (cisgender microaggressions) have been linked to emotional distress and disruption in friendships (Galupo, Henise, & Davis, 2014).

According to data from the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency’s LGBTQ+I Survey published in 2020 (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2020), 65% of EU students had witnessed or heard negative comments or behaviour because another person in the class was perceived as LGBTQ+ (with varying percentages depending on the country). In several countries, up to one in five LGBTQ+ students had considered dropping out of school or changing their schools for this reason. Other studies indicate that LGBTQ+ students suffer greater harassment and victimization which can causes a lower level of self-esteem, a poorer academic performance as well as a feeling of exclusion/disconnection with the educational community and with their peers.


LGBTQ+ childhood and adolescence feel more secure, a greater sense of well-being as well as a better academic performance if they are immersing in family environments and educational communities which support those who suffer this type of microaggressions, who do not minimize them and intervene in front of them (Bryan, 2018).

For this reason, it is essential that teachers who work with children and adolescents must provide a safe, inclusive, and positive space for anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression and diversity of sex characteristics (such as intersexuality, which is the term that encompasses all persons who have born with reproductive or sexual organs that do not conform to what is traditionally considered “male” or “female”.)

Hence, it is important to learn how to distinguish what microaggressions are and what are their characteristics. In this way, we can break the silence which exists around them and the ambiguous interpretations that can occur and that cause so much damage in our children and adolescents. There are two large groups of microaggressions.

11.2.1. Types of microaggressions

On the one hand, there are those based on sexual orientation (Nadal, Rivera, & Corpus, 2010) and encompass different aspects such as:

  • Use of heterosexist terminology, e.g., making jokes/comments about LGBTQ+ people in your presence without regard to their identity/orientation. Also, it happens when someone uses disparaging heterosexist or transphobic language towards, or about, LGBTQ+ persons, such as “That’s so gay”, “No homo”, “tranny”, “she-male”, “faggot” or other derogatory terms in presence of others.
  • Endorsement of culture and heteronormative or gender-conforming behaviours. These kinds of microaggressions take place when an LGBTQ+ person is assumed to be heterosexual, or when they are encouraged to act in gender-conforming ways. When youth is being told to, they shouldn’t be so flamboyant or that they should act “more masculine” or, in case of girls “more feminine”. Many young adults are being asked “if they have a girlfriend/boyfriend already” perhaps not realizing they are essentially telling those who they ask that they expected them to be heterosexual. Heterosexuals don’t realize that it is common for them to assume someone is straight, unless proven otherwise.
  • Discomfort/disapproval of LGBTQ+ and other sexualities experiences. These types of microaggressions include instances when LGBTQ+ people are treated with awkwardness, condemnation, or both. Examples of such microaggressions are for example when a same-sex/gender couple is being looked at by strangers in disgust just because the couple is holding hands in public. Neighbouring with overt discrimination and harassment these types of behaviours may include comments such as that these types of behaviours are “an abomination” or that a transgender person’s gender identity is “unnatural”. E.g., when someone grimaces when a non-normative couple is affectionate in public.
  • Denial of the reality of heterosexism, these type of microaggressions occurs when a heterosexual or cisgender person claims that homophobia does not exist. E.g., telling an LGBTQ+ person that they are being exaggerated when confronted with a heterosexist attitude.
  • Assumption of pathology or sexual deviation. These microaggressions come about when heterosexual people consider LGBTQ+ people to be sexual deviants or overly sexual. One example of this on a systemic level is the federal ban for any man who has had sex with another man to donate blood. So even if a man is HIV-negative and has been in a monogamous relationship all of his life, he is considered to be at risk and therefore an ineligible donor.

On the other hand, there are those based on gender identity/expression (Greenwald et al., 2009), and which include the following:

  • Denial of gender identity. These type of microaggressions occurs when a cisgender person claims that transphobia does not exist, e.g., when a family member tells a trans person that their transsexual status is just a phase.
  • Misgendering. These type of microaggression consist of making a wrong use of pronouns, e.g., when the teacher uses the wrong pronoun for a trans person when passing the list in class.
  • Behavioural discomfort. These microaggressions occurs when someone does not feel comfortable being with transgender people or with people which are not cisgender and shows it through subtle behaviours such as when someone does not want to sit/share space near a person who is/identifies as non-binary.
  • Invasion of bodily privacy. These kinds of microaggressions occur toward transgender people primarily and include interactions in which others feel entitled or comfortable to objectify transgender bodies. For instance, someone asks about their genitals, making an inappropriate and invasive question that would never been asked toward a cisgender person (i.e., a person whose gender identity matches their birth sex). All these microaggressions have a significant impact on people’s lives. While some of these experiences may seem brief and harmless, many studies have found that the more that people experience microaggressions, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression, psychological distress, and even physical health issues.
  • Denial of social transphobia. This type of microaggressions occurs when a cisgender person claims that transphobia does not exist. E.g., telling a trans person that they complain too much about people’s reactions to their gender identity.

Moreover, according to Nadal (2014) there is one more type of microaggressions that may be distinguished:

Assumption of universal LGBTQ+ experience:

These sorts of microaggressions transpire when heterosexual people assume that all LGBTQ+ persons are the same. For instance, sometimes, people may make comments about someone and say that they do not seem to be “a typical gay guy” because they may not fulfil some stereotype; other times, people may assume that an LGBTQ+ person they know would automatically get along with another LGBTQ+ person simply because they may be attracted to the same gender.

Lesbian women have reported that people presume that they should all be masculine, while bisexual people have reported that they are often stereotyped as being “confused” (Nadal, Issa, et al., 2011).

Many transgender women have reported being arrested and falsely accused of being sex workers (Nadal et al., 2012), demonstrating that these biases and microaggressions could even have legal implications.


Imagine that you are in your class and a student proposes to organize a musical gala for the high school celebration and another student responds with a “that’s so gay” comment. Usually, we ignore that type of comments but, it is important to point out that it is a microaggression. As teachers/educators (social educators, youth workers etc.) we must point out the importance of language and what it transmits and question these aspects. For example, proposing to the students that no one uses the expression “this is very straight/hetero.” From there, we can ask them why they believe that these phrases are used, and others not, what connotations and implications they have and how we can rephrase them to be more inclusive for everyone. Imagination exercises can be helpful in these contexts. You could use them to ask students how they would feel in a certain context when that specific comment was made. For example, if they would be a closeted LGBTQ+ person or somebody who is trying to figure out their sexuality.

Imagine that a trans girl student goes to the girls’ bathroom of the centre. Other students who were already inside look at her and start whispering and laughing at each other. It would be recommended that, as a teacher you address the problem with both parties involved. First, it is advisable to talk to the person suffering the aggression, in this case, the trans student, and ask if they need anything and how you can support them. Next, it would be a good idea for us to give to our trans student a space where they could feel free to express (or not, if they don’t want to talk about it) what has happened, how it has made them feel, etc. And let them know that this type of behaviour will not be overlooked or allowed and that they have our full support. Then, you should talk to the other people involved and explain why their behaviour was not appropriate and what effects it can cause. These types of behaviour are often the result of lack of knowledge on the topic or not understanding the concept. By explaining it, you are clarifying it and hopefully helping in preventing it from happening again. Finally, you could intervene with the whole class explaining and normalizing the reality of trans people. In addition, if the problem persists, we could specifically train some students to ensure that this type of situation does not occur.


As educators, you play an active role in practices against microaggressions. Here are some tips that could be useful:

  • Include sexual diversity in a transversal way in your classes. Use LGBTQ+ referents (for example, in language and literature class include LGBTQ+ authors)
  • Try to use inclusive/neutral language.
  • Ask the students at the beginning of the course how they want you to refer to them (use of masculine, feminine, neutral pronouns, etc.)
  • Do not assume the heterosexuality/cisgenderism of students when the topic comes up in the classroom.
  • Try to provide a respectful and open environment and a favourable climate so that all students can express themselves and even raise their doubts without fear of rejection or invalidation. The teacher must be prepared for negative or even violent opinions towards LGBTQ+ people. It is important not to get into an argument with the students in the classroom (because it can hurt other students). It is very important that at all times we show an attitude of respect and acceptance towards sexual diversity.
  • If you observe that one of your students is committing a microaggression, try to ask them in private the reason for their behaviour, question (always with respect and understanding) their behaviour and try to make them see through your questions why this behaviour can be problematic and/or hurt others.
  • Try to make students aware of the prejudices and stereotypes they have internalized to take control over them. Do not normalize attitudes/behaviours that may be harmful.
  • Offer access to information and tools so that, at any time, students can detect microaggressions and have the capacities to address them. In addition, if they do not feel able to cope with these behaviours, they can communicate this to you so that you can work on it in the classroom.
  • Microagressions can take various forms, here are few examples:
    • Using homophobic language: “Faggot“
    • Things that are meant as compliments but they are saying that to be recognized as a trans person is bad and that looks are the most important thing: „You don’t look like transgender!“
    • Clinging on stereotype of how gay guys look or behave: „He‘s not a typical gay guy.“
    • Assuming that all LGBTQ+ people are the same: „Oh you‘d get along so well, she‘s also queer!“
    • Violating body privacy of gender diverse people: „Did you get THE surgery?“
    • Suggesting people are bad (not enough if they dont correspond to stereotypical male or female roles: „You should act more masculine!“
    • Pushing on girls to answer if they’re already seeing some boys, creating an environment, where only heterosexuality is expected, which can create a pressure for coming out or fear of it


European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights (Ed.). (2020). EU LGBT survey: European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender survey ; main results. The Publications Office of the European Union

Galupo, M. P., Henise, S. B., & Davis, K. S. (2014). Transgender microaggressions in the context of friendship: Patterns of experience across friends’ sexual orientation and gender identity. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1, 461–470. doi:10.1037/sgd0000075 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. (2013). National School Climate Survey. Retrieved from http://www.glsen.org/nscs

Greenwald, A. G., Poehlman, T. A., Uhlmann, E. L., & Banaji, M. R. (2009). Understanding and using the Implicit Association Test: III. Meta-analysis of predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 17–41. doi:10.1037/a0015575

Nadal, K. L. (2018). Measuring LGBTQ microaggressions: The sexual orientation microaggressions scale (SOMS) and the gender identity microaggressions scale (GIMS). Journal of homosexuality.

Nadal, K. L., Erazo, T., Schulman, J., Han, H., Deutsch, T., Ruth, R., & Santacruz, E. (2017). Caught at the intersections: Microaggressions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of color. LGBT psychology and mental health: Emerging research and advances, 133-152.

Nadal, K. L., Rivera, D. P., & Corpus, M. J. (2010). Sexual orientation and transgender microaggressions in everyday life: Experiences of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. In D. W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestation, dynamics, and impact (pp. 217–240). New York, NY: Wiley.

Robinson, J. (2014). Sexual orientation microaggressions and posttraumatic stress symptoms (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (Accession Order No. 1565243)

Sarah E., & Bryan, S. E. (2018). Types of LGBT Microaggressions in Counsellor Education Programs, Journal of LGBT Issues in Counselling, 12, 2, 119-135, DOI: 10.1080/15538605.2018.1455556

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist62(4), 271.

Woodford, M. R., Kulick, A., Sinco, B. R., & Hong, J. S. (2014). Contemporary heterosexism on campus and psychological distress among LGBQ students: The mediating role of self-acceptance. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84, 519–529. doi:10.1037/ort0000015

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