Learning platform

Learning platform


Estimated reading: 13 minutes
  • Microaggressions: are behaviours that subtly or indirectly communicate a derogatory and/or hostile message and make LGBTQ+ people feel uncomfortable or insulted. For example, these aggressions include gestures, invasive questions, stereotyping and others.
  • 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 children and adolescents can find in their home an open and supportive environment in which they can express themselves, raise their doubts about ambiguous situations they may have experienced and find in their parents those reference figures that serve as support.

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 your 13-year-old child tells you they are bisexual. You have many doubts so you start asking them if it will not be just a phase, if they are not attracted more to one gender than to another, that they are still too young to know well what they like. Given this, your child may feel questioned and may feel that you are invalidating their orientation which will inevitably take you away from them. In this case, it would be recommendable to show to your child your gratitude for sharing it with you and your respect for their guidance, without questioning them.

Imagine that your child is transgender, you (although you accept their identity) do not want to buy them the clothes they want so that they feel comfortable with their gender expression. To you it may seem something of little relevance but, for a teenager, and more for a trans teenager who is in the middle of a period of discovery and affirmation of their identity and personality it is important to express with their image who they are. Therefore, it is recommendable to let them to be the ones who can choose how they dress. Especially since it has been proven that adjusting transgender children to their biological sex can cause them to experience symptoms of depression or even lead to permanent psychological damage.


As parents you play an active role in practices against microaggressions. Here are some tips that could be useful to educate and protect your children:

  • Work on sex education with your children from an early age, make it easier for them to be open, to learn about sexual diversity.
  • Try to maintain an open and respectful atmosphere in which your child can ask you their doubts, concerns and, above all, feel accepted.
  • Try not to minimize the importance of their sensations/perceptions, validate their emotions and feelings, ask them how they feel, what they would like you to do if, for example, at some point they felt that you were invalidating their orientation/identity?
  • Teach them that they deserve respect and that they should not have to endure comments about their orientation/identity, jokes about it, or invading their privacy with questions that are too personal.
  • If you observe that it is your child who is committing a microaggression, try to ask them why he/she is doing it, question (always with respect and understanding) their behaviour and try to make him/her see through your questions why this behaviour can be problematic and/or hurt others.
  • If your child tells you that they have suffered a microaggression, ask them if they want to share anything about the situation with you or if, instead they prefer to process it on their own and talk about it later. If they want to express what have happened ask them how they felt, making it easier for them to express it and be able to make visible what happened. Also, remind them that their identity is valid and that is valid and that it is completely okay to not explain it to everyone as it is not their role to educate everyone else on diversity in identity.  Finally, remind them that they can always have an adult reference (yourself, a teacher if it happens at school, a monitor if they are doing an activity, etc.) in case the situation requires it, to whom they can turn to.


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

Share this Doc


Or copy link