A new government study has found that gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students are far more likely to be raped or assaulted in a dating situation than their straight peers.
Similarly, it also found that gay teens were far more likely to have attempted suicide, taken illegal drugs and engaged in other risky behaviors.
While certainly heartbreaking, these results are by no means surprising: advocacy groups have conducted smaller studies that have suggested this for years. With that in mind, the reason why the findings are so significant is because this marks the first time the federal government's biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey — the gold standard of adolescent health data — conducted a survey of this sort, and on a national level to boot.
"This is the first time we can say that nationwide these are consistent challenges faced by lesbian, gay and bi- youth," the Trevor Project's David W. Bond, said. The Trevor Project is a national suicide prevention organization focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
The research results are based on the responses from roughly 15,600 high school students across the country between the ages of 14 and 17. Of these participants, about eight percent identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, which would be about 1.3 million students.
These students were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. Furthermore, they skipped school more often because they did not feel safe, with at least one-third of respondents verifying that they had been bullied on school grounds. In addition, they were twice as likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.
Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of these students reported that they had seriously considered suicide, with 29 percent actually making an attempt to do so in the year before they took the survey. The percentage of those who used illegal drugs was many times greater than their heterosexual peers. While 1.3 percent of straight students said they had used heroin, for example, six percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual students reported having done so.
Unfortunately, while the numbers do reveal something terrible is going on, they don't illustrate why this is happening. Without that knowledge, it's hard to make decisive measures to combat it.
Despite that, Dr. Debra E. Houry, the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, does have some ideas, namely family support, improving stress-coping skills, access to mental health service and fostering social bonds or "connectedness."
Similarly, Bond, a licensed social worker and vice president of programs at the Trevor Project, mentioned mental health and community resources for teens in crisis, reminiscent of his organization's Trevor Project Lifeline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In addition to the "whys," there are several more shortcomings regarding this survey: the data applies only to youth who are enrolled in school, and thus doesn't capture the entire population of lesbian, gay or bisexual youth in the United States; researchers did not formulate questions about transgender identity for this study, and students might not have known their sexual identity (or might not have been willing to disclose it in a questionnaire) — in fact, three percent of respondents stated they were unsure of their sexual identity.
Regardless of these shortcomings, however, CDC researchers are moving ahead and will continue to survey and study interventions to combat the public health issues raised in this study.