Today, CDC released the first nationally representative data on the health risks faced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school students. These data highlight the need for accelerated action to protect the health and wellbeing of our vulnerable youth.
Findings from the report Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 – United States and Selected Sites, 2015 show that LGB students experience physical and sexual violence and bullying at levels multiple times higher than that of their heterosexual peers. For example, 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)
These experiences can place 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.
These newly available data are published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report examines the prevalence of more than 100 health behaviors among LGB students compared to other students. The analyses are possible due to the inclusion of two new questions about the sex of sexual contacts and sexual identity on the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), the principal source of data for tracking health risk behaviors among the nation’s high school students.
Although YRBS data do not tell us why we see these disparities between LGB and heterosexual students, other research suggests a number of factors that may put youth at risk for sexual and physical abuse and other types of violence. These include social isolation, lack of parental or caregiver support, or even not being perceived as being masculine or feminine enough.
While there is no simple solution to address the risks shown in the report, research does point to the importance of support for LGB youth through comprehensive, community-wide prevention efforts that can reduce the risk of multiple types of violence for LGB and other vulnerable youth. Schools can build an environment that provides a sense of safety and connection for all students, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Parents can help foster resiliency by providing strong family support and teaching all adolescents non-violent problem-solving skills. Other violence prevention strategies can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/
We all can raise awareness of the urgent prevention needs of LGB youth. But we must do more. Many of our current efforts address factors that can place any young person at risk. More work is needed to tailor these efforts and programs to the specific needs of LGB youth and to further understand their challenges. The information in this report is critical to our work to ensure all young people experience adolescence without threats of violence or bullying and become healthy and productive adults.