Research on LGBTQ Youth

School Attachment and Academic Performance

For most youth, school attachment is the feeling of being an engaged part of the school community and is an essential factor in youths’ well-being. Feeling a sense of school attachment is also directly linked to academic achievement.  In our society, many LGBT youth lack school attachment.  Almost half of LGBT youth surveyed in a 2011 Canadian research study examining school climate indicated that they did not feel like they belong, compared to only 3.5% of their non-LGBT youth counterparts.[1] Sense of belonging is a key component of social inclusion, and an important factor in a successful transition to adulthood.

Often LGBT youth do not feel safe, leading to anxiety and stress attending school.  The result is that many LGBT youth stop going to school or drop out completely. “30.2% of LGBT students, compared to 11% of non-LGBT students, reported skipping because they felt unsafe at school or on the way to school.”[2]

These statistics underscore the level of fear experienced by LGBT youth, their growing detachment from school, and an increased likelihood of not completing high-school.

  • 64% of LGBT youth, and 61% of students with LGBT parents report that they feel unsafe at school
  • 74% of transgender students and 55 % of LGB youth report being verbally harassed about their gender or sexual identity.
  • 21% of LGB youth report being physically harassed or assaulted because of their orientation
  • 37% of trans-youth report being physically harassed or assaulted due to their gender expression
  • 49% of trans-youth reported being sexually assaulted as result of their gender expression[3]

Rather than school being an instrumental factor in LGBT youths’ sense of inclusion, research shows that it is increasingly becoming a factor in LGBT youth experiencing fear, isolation, marginalization and social exclusion.

In 2009, the first Canadian and national research report was published that looked at homophobia and transphobia in Canadian schools. It showed, overwhelmingly, that schools are indeed unsafe spaces for LGBT youth and in particular, transgender youth:

  • Three-quarters of LGB students and 95% of transgender students felt unsafe at school, compared to one-fifth of straight students.
  • Over a quarter of LGB students and almost half of transgender students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, compared to less than a tenth of non-LGBT.
  • Many LGBT students would not be comfortable talking to their teachers, their principal, or their coach about LGBT issues.
  • Only one in five LGBT students could talk to a parent very comfortably about LGBT issues. Three-quarters could talk to a close friend.
  • Over half of LGBT students did not feel accepted at school, and almost half felt they could not be themselves, compared to one-fifth of straight students.[4]

What are typically considered traditional points of support for heterosexual youth, such as teachers or a coach, are often not the same points of support for LGBT youth.

 

The Research Shows:  Extreme Vulnerabilities and Marginalization of LGBT Youth

There is a plethora of current and continued emerging research that demonstrates the severity and range of vulnerabilities for LGBT youth.  For identified and questioning LGBT youth, they face immense challenges, and exist against continuous fear of social exclusion from social support systems, and most important, exclusion from family, which places LGBT youth at extreme risk, often for homelessness.

LGBT youth experience risk to growth and healthy development through:

  • Peer victimization
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor academic achievement, school truancies and high drop-out rates from school
  • Higher rates of sexual harassment
  • Higher rates of teen pregnancy and dating violence
  • Homeless and street and sex work with consequences of an increased risk of HIV[5]

 

Mental Health and Suicide

For LGBT youth suicide is the number one cause of death.[6] (Cited in Questions and Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools, Public Health Agency of Canada). “Studies have suggested that there is a link between bullying and suicide, and that there is a disproportionately high rate of suicide attempts and suicidal thinking among LGBT students.”[7]

The societal negative constructions of gay and lesbian identity “places [LGBTQ youth] at a greater risk of developing mental health concerns than their heterosexual counterparts, including anxiety, depression and psychological distress.”[8]

Many LGBT youth live a life in fear: fear that they will be ‘outed’; fear that they will be physically harassed; fear they will lose their family if they are honest about who they are; fear of going to school; and fear of verbal harassment.

There is 20 years of research that consistently indicates that LGBT youth have higher prevalence and potential incidence for depression and suicide related symptoms, including low-self esteem, isolation, anxiety and hopelessness. LGBT youth are 3 to 10 times more likely to attempt and complete suicide.[9]

A University of Calgary study[10] indicated that in Calgary, LGBT youth are 13-14 times more likely to contemplate and attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Emerging research is also pointing to the hypothesis that LGBT youth of ethnic minority groups have an even higher possibility for suicide attempts and completions.

 

Homelessness and Street Youth

In a Canadian study in 2000, it was estimated between 25% and 40% of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBT.[11] Further, in a 2008 study, it was shown that “the primary cause for youth leaving home or for being thrown out of the house is family conflict. Conflict in the family can be further broken down into two subcategories: abuse and homophobia and transphobia.”[12]

Another recent study on homeless and street-involved youth found that in Toronto 29.6% of street youth identified as “non-straight” and 2.7% as transgendered.[13]  In 2004, the CBC’s The Fifth Estate reported that street youth are much more likely to be queer (20-40%) than the general population (10%).[14] In a recent US study[15] an estimated 20 to 40% of all homeless and runaway youth are LGBT.

The study concluded that most homeless LGBT youth prefer to live on the streets because of unsafe shelters, and the rampant homophobia within them[16].  In addition, for LGBT homeless youth, the level of victimization also increases while on the street. In the Calgary Street Study, it was indicated that the level of victimization is double for LGBTQ homeless youth.[17]

All LGBT homeless youth are under increased risk of victimization both prior to leaving their homes and, increasingly, after becoming homeless. In fact, nearly 60% of homeless youth report experiences of sexual and physical abuse. A Canadian study[18] found that sexual minority and questioning homeless youth were three times more likely to participate in survival sex than their heterosexual counterparts. Thus, homelessness may place LGBT youth at risk of further problems and challenges, such as sex trade, substance abuse, and increased infections of STI and HIV.

 


[1] Taylor, C. & Peter, T., with McMinn, T.L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schachter, K. (2011). P. 94. Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

[2] Ibid p.89

[3] Ibid p.15

[4] Taylor, C., Peter, T., Schachter, K., Paquin, S., Beldom, S., Gross, Z., & McMinn, TL. (2008). Youth Speak Up about Homophobia and Transphobia: The First National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools. Phase One Report. Toronto ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

[5] Andre, G and Well, K. (2011). Unimaginable Struggles, Imaginable Futures: Camp fYrefly Changes the Lives of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. Faculty of Education, University of Alberta.

[6] Child Death Review Unit — BC Coroners Service. (2008). “Looking for something to look forward to…”: A five-year retrospective review of child and youth suicide in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: Author.; Remafedi, G. (Ed.). 1994. Death by denial: Studies of suicide in gay and lesbian teenagers. Boston: Alyson Publications.; Russell, S.T., & Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91 (8), 1276-1281.

[7] Taylor, C. & Peter, T., with McMinn, T.L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schachter, K. (2011). P. 93. Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

[8] Cochran, S., Sullivan., & Mays, V. (2003). Estimates of alcohol use and clinical treatment needs among homosexually active men and women in the US population. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 1062-1071.

[9] Bagley C, and Tremblay P (2000). Elevated rates of suicidal behavior in gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. Crisis, 21(3): 111-17.

[10] Ramsay, R. 2011. Increasing awareness of LGBTTsQQA Suicide Issue.  http://www.people.ucalgary.ca/~ramsay/

[11] http://www.thestar.com/living/article/682938

[12] Abramovich, I. 2008. Young, Queer and Homeless in Toronto: Where is the Support. Maser’s Thesis. Your University, Toronto. See also: www.homelesshub.ca/(S(lzhziq550emfug45utsyrkao))/Library/Young-Queer-and-Homeless-in-Toronto-Where-is-the-Support-37839.aspx

[13] Gaetz, S. (2004). Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, (46) 423-455.

[14] CBC News, The Fifth Estate, 2004.

[15] Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Worthington, C., MacLaurin, B., Huffey, N., Dittmann, D., Kitt, O., Patten, S., and Leech, J. 2008. Calgary Youth, Health and the Street – Final Report. Calgary: University of Calgary.

[18] Gaetz, S. (2004). Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, (46) 423-455.

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