A crisis requiring urgent attention from school administrators, teachers, parents, and the community at large: lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers are experiencing severe levels of depression, bullying, and violence, according to an important new study released August 12 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 30 percent of LGB students reported attempting suicide in the past year, five times the rate of heterosexual students.
“The intensity of homophobic attitudes and acceptance of gay-related victimization, as well as the ongoing silence around adolescent sexuality, marginalizes a whole group of young people,” Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, told the New York Times. That marginalization, Miller added, “increases their vulnerability to exploitative and violent relationships.”
The DC Center for the LGBT Community summarized the findings of the study, entitled “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015”:
LGB students are significantly more likely to report:
—Being forced to have sex (18% LGB vs. 5% heterosexual)
—Sexual dating violence (23% LGB vs. 9% heterosexual)
—Physical dating violence (18% LGB vs. 8% heterosexual)
—Being bullied at school or online (at school: 34% LGB vs. 19% heterosexual; online: 28% LGB vs. 14% heterosexual)
LGB students at substantial risk for serious outcomes:
—More than 40% of LGB students seriously considered suicide and 29% reported attempting suicide in the past year.
—Sixty percent of LGB students reported having been so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some usual activities.
—LGB students were up to 5 times more likely than other students to report using several illegal drugs.
—More than 1 in 10 LGB students have missed school during the past 30 days because of safety concerns.
The CDC study marks the first time that a nationwide survey of American high school students on health-related behaviors included sexual identities data to be broken down by sexual categories.
The report concluded that schools have “a unique and important role to play” in helping reduce stigma and discrimination by creating and sustaining positive school environments through the following policies and practices:
—Encourage respect for all students and do not allow bullying, harassment, or violence against any student.
—Identify “safe spaces” (e.g., counselors’ offices, designated classrooms, or student organizations) where sexual minority students can get support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.
—Encourage student-led and student-organized school clubs (e.g., gay/straight alliances) that promote school connectedness and a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all students.
—Ensure that health classes and educational materials include information that is relevant to sexual minority students and use inclusive words or terms.
—Implement professional development opportunities and encourage all school staff to attend on how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual minority status.
—Make it easier for students to have access to community-based health care providers who have experience providing health services, including HIV/STD testing and counseling and social and psychological services, to sexual minority youth.
—Promote parent engagement through outreach efforts and educational programs that provide parents with the information and skills they need to help support sexual minority youth.