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LGBT students experience more violence, bullying than peers, study says

The onus to reduce risk for violence and abuse is on parents, school officials and the community, researchers say.

By
Stephen Feller
Researchers at the CDC say LGBT students are at significantly higher risk than heterosexual students for violence, abuse, depression and suicide, based on the first national survey of students that asked about sexuality. Photo by Dora Zett/Shutterstock
Researchers at the CDC say LGBT students are at significantly higher risk than heterosexual students for violence, abuse, depression and suicide, based on the first national survey of students that asked about sexuality. Photo by Dora Zett/Shutterstock

ATLANTA, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- While it is known that LGBT children and teens have a harder time because of treatment by parents, peers and strangers, researchers call the results of a new study "heartbreaking" based on just how bad the problem is.

The first national survey on LGBT student health finds risk for physical and sexual violence, bullying and suicide, among other threats to health, as much as four times higher than risk for heterosexual students, according to researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The survey, published as part of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found LGBT students are nearly 4 times as likely to be forced into sex than their heterosexual peers, more than twice as likely to experience either sexual or physical dating violence and twice as likely to be bullied both at school or online.

More than one in 10 LGBT students reported missing school in the previous month because of safety concerns, which researchers report can be linked to other longer-term issues like graduation and success in life.

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The study shows more than 40 percent of LGBT students have seriously considered suicide in the last year, and 29 percent reported attempting it. Among the survey's participants, more than 60 percent of LGBT respondents reported being so sad or hopeless they'd halted normal activities in their lives.

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"These data are alarming," Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, told UPI in an interview. "The scope and the magnitude on a national scale are quite heartbreaking."

Mermin said the data collected in the CDC's national survey echoes smaller studies finding higher incidence of rape, dating violence and bullying, as well as suicide, depression, drug use and other health risks, among LGBT students.

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Data on LGBT students was collected as part of the National Youth Risk Behavior Study, which added questions about sexual identity and sex of sexual contacts for the first time, allowing researchers to analyze answers on 118 health-related behaviors.

While the survey does not provide enough information to understand why LGBT students are at such greater risk, Mermin said helping these students "think they matter will help them strive and survive."

Dr. Debra Houry, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said the study suggests a role for parents, teachers and the community, but note further work is needed to find the causes for higher risk in all of these areas -- as well as to find whether the situation is getting better or worse.

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Previous research has shown social isolation, poor parent-child relationships and relationships among teens can affect some of the issues, but it takes work and attention for these things to improve.

"The data in itself has to spur us to take action," Houry said. "There's no single or simple solution. Looking at all the different sources of strength and support and all the facets of what we can do is really important. For example, there are protective factors such as parents expressing love toward their children and working with them on problem solving and coping skills."

The onus, Houry said, is for these efforts to be spread among parents, school officials, friends and others in the community, be it intervening in potential or actual violent situations or watching for bullying.

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