Collective action is needed to ensure the safety of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, who experience violence and other health risks at higher rates than their heterosexual peers, a new federal report says.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the first nationwide study that tracks the health behaviors of LGB teenagers and found they experience higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence and drug use. The study analyzed questionnaires from 15,713 students. It did not ask about students who identify as transgender.
The report found 34 percent of LGB students reported being bullied in school, compared with 19 percent of their heterosexual peers, and 28 percent reported being bullied online, compared with 14 percent of their peers.
LGB students also were more likely to report being physically forced to have sex and experiencing sexual violence and physical violence while dating.
In addition, more than 40 percent of LGB students reported seriously considering suicide and 29 percent reported they had attempted suicide during the past year, the report said.
The report draws from the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which included questions about students’ sexual identity for the first time in 2015. The report categorized sexual minority youth as those who identified themselves as such, had had had sexual contact with only persons of the same sex or who had had sexual contact with persons of both sexes.
The report does not assess why LGB youth are more at risk than their peers for certain behaviors.
The majority of LGB students “cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults,” but the findings highlight the need for school, community and family support to minimize the risks to students, the report said.
Youth service providers are one group that can put the findings to use, researchers and advocates said.
Emily Greytak, director of research at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said the data offer important insights into the experiences of LGB youth, which should encourage youth workers to examine how their programs acknowledge and seek to address disparities.
“Hopefully it will provide them with the motivation to ensure that their work is inclusive and supportive of LGB youth — in order to decrease the experiences of stigmatization, discrimination, and victimization that are prime factors in their elevated risk factors,” she said in an e-mail.
Some of the higher rates of risk, especially around sexual assault, dating violence and substance use, may be because LGB teenagers do not see their experiences reflected in prevention and support services, Greytak said.
“Youth service providers should ensure that their intervention and response services are culturally competent for LGB youth and also explicitly demonstrate that they are welcome and affirming of LGB youth,” she said.
Making programs and services inclusive requires training and reviews of policies, procedures and materials, she added.
Youth service workers and others also should be careful not to use the findings to make judgments about LGB youth, which could make them feel distrustful of the adults who say they want to help and compound their health risks, said Emily Halden Brown, an organizer at Georgia Equality who helped form the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth.
LGB youth are well aware when a program is not designed to meet their needs, she added.
Brown said youth service providers who want to make their programs inclusive should try:
- committing to regular staff training on sexual orientation, gender identity and how they intersect with race, ethnicity, age and other factors;
- making sure relationship curriculum includes same-sex relationships;
- using safe space insignia, such as rainbows, in common areas;
- designing intake forms that are open-ended and allow teenagers to identify the way they want to.
Brown said she hopes that in addition to studies of risk, researchers will look at what helps all young people, including LGB teenagers, thrive. Youth-serving organizations and others need to know more about what mitigates risk, not only what the risks are.
“There are a lot of resilient young people who go through hard times who emerge,” she said.
This story has been updated.