Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students experience a higher level of physical and sexual violence and bullying than other students, according to a recently released national report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 – United States and Selected Sites, 2015” is the CDC’s first nationally representative study on the health risks of U.S. LGB high school students.
The report was made possible by the CDC for the first time adding questions to ascertain both sexual identity and sex of sexual contacts, to the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaires.
CDC analyzed data from the 2015 survey (conducted among more than 15,000 students in grades 9–12) plus data from 25 state surveys and 19 large urban school district surveys.
The report defined sexual minority students as those who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual; who had sexual contact with only persons of the same sex; or who had sexual contact with persons of both sexes.
“It was important to add these questions on sex identification and sex of sexual contact so we could better understand and document the health risk behaviors experienced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth,” said Laura Kann, Ph.D., author of the report.
Kann said the information gleaned in the national report regarding the disproportionate risk related to physical violence and bullying is consistent with results that have been collected at the state and local level for many years.
According to the report, LGB students are more likely to report being physically forced to have sex (18 percent vs. 5 percent for their heterosexual peers); experience sexual dating violence (23 percent vs. 9 percent); experience physical dating violence (18 percent vs. 8 percent); be bullied at school (34 percent vs. 19 percent); and be bullied online (28 percent vs. 14 percent).
Additionally, “more than 40 percent have seriously considered suicide,” Kann said. In fact, 29 percent reported having attempted suicide during the past 12 months.
“Obviously, rape, dating violence, and bullying are all health dangers on their own, but when you combine them with other risk factors, they are also at risk for suicide, depression, addiction and even poor academic performance, which also has additional negative outcomes,” Kann said.
In the study, 60 percent of LGB students reported having been so sad or hopeless they stopped doing some of their usual activities; they were five times more likely than other students to report using illegal drugs; and more than one in 10 LGB students reported missing school during the past 30 days because of safety concerns.
“There’s really no simple solution to this dangerous intersection of risks these kids are experiencing and it just kind of builds on them over time,” Kann said.
The report states that research demonstrates the importance of school, community and family support for LGB youth and calls for focused public health and school-based actions and policies that support safe and supportive environments for LGB students; and outreach efforts and educational programs for parents and families.
The report also calls upon youth-serving agencies and organizations and health care centers and providers to help facilitate access to education and information, health care services and evidence-based programs and interventions.
“We really hope this study accelerates action to improve the health well-being of the more than almost 1.3 million gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students,” Kann said. “Everybody can play a part – parents, students, psychologists. Schools in particular can build and implement environments that provide a sense of safety and connectedness for all students. Connectedness seems to be a real key for helping these teens and adolescents.”
By Pamela Berard