The stigma of being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, along with related discrimination and victimization, can lead LGB teens to engage more frequently in risky behaviors than their heterosexual peers, an extensive report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which surveyed 156,000 high school students from 2001-2009, finds. On average, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens are more likely to use tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, contemplate suicide, or carry a gun, than straight teens, often due to increased stress they experience from society about their sexual orientation.
“This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people. Any effort to promote adolescent health and safety must take into account the additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination, and victimization,” said Howell Wechsler, Ed.D, M.P.H, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). “We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”
It’s important to note that just being an LGBT teen does not lead to risky behaviors, rather, as Wechsler suggests, the stressors society creates can lead them to seek emotional outlets — which can include risky behaviors. It’s also important to note that the risky behaviors the CDC describes are often likely the result of poor or compromised psychological well-being LGBT teens can experience, caused by a response to societal stigmas. As Wechsler states, “we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people.” And recognizing the unique emotional challenges they face.
“The report is a stark reminder of the tremendous toll that discrimination and stigma, bullying and harassment, and family rejection are taking on otherwise healthy and well-adjusted LGBT youth,” Andrew Lane, Executive Director of the Johnson Family Foundation, told The New Civil Rights Movement via email, of the CDC report. “This is a public health crisis, plain and simple, and the findings should serve as a call to arms for anyone who cares about the welfare of young people in this country – an issue that should not have two sides.”
This is the first major study by the CDC examining LGB youth health, but it both supports and expands a study The New Civil Rights Movement reported earlier this year that found that both straight but especially LGBT youth who live in more conservative regions are more likely to attempt suicide than youth who grow up in more liberal environments.
Psychologist Mark Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., of Columbia University, the author of the study that compared youth growing up in conservative vs. liberal environments told The New Civil Rights Movement, “gay-straight alliances and anti-bullying policies can have important beneficial mental health consequences,” contrary to recent attempts by some conservatives to limit or eliminate gay-straight alliances.
Just two weeks later, Peter Sprigg of the certified hate group Family Research council falsely claimed, “the most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a ‘positive social environment’ for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Yet another stressor LGBT youth are forced to endure.
Fortunately, the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice and Department of Education have recently jumped on board the efforts to create LGBT-friendly environments in schools.
Last month the Department of Justice (DOJ) encouraged an “LGBT ‘supportive environment’” in schools.
And today the Trevor Project just announced, via a press release, a major development:
“Sec. Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education reaffirmed the government’s support of allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) to form in every school across the country under the Equal Access Act. The announcement was made at the Federal LGBT Youth Summit, and is the second broad-based federal announcement promoting the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Yesterday’s announcement came from the Centers for Disease Control. The Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth, affirms that the availability of a GSA at a school can greatly improve outcomes for LGBTQ youth in crisis, and the CDC data supports this need.”
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