Category Archives: Research and Studies

How School Climate Impacts LGBTQ Youth

A new study from New York University entitled “The Effect of Negative School Climate on Academic Outcomes for LGBT Youth and the Role of In-School Supports shows what many of us suspected:  That LGBT students have better grades, attend school more and have better self esteem when the school climate is better.  As Journalists Resource reports, the aspect that most predicted positive, healthy outcomes for LGBT youth in schools were supportive teachers and administrators.  Other predictors of good outcomes were having access to a Gay-Straight Alliance, and a curriculum that included positive images of LGBT people. 

This study helps us connect that school bullying and harassment of LGBT youth has a far reaching impact:  lower GPAs and absenteeism might decrease a student’s chances of getting into a college they want or getting a job that suits them.  It is important for our schools to be safe places for all students to learn, socialize and grow.

Read the full article here.


Gay-Straight Alliances and LGBTQ Youth Reslience

A new study by the Family Acceptance Project supports what many of us probably already knew: That LGBTQ students who go to schools with gay-straight alliances (GSAs) — even if they never attend — are happier and more successful.  They seem to have lower rates of depression, suicide and substance use.  They also have more success in school and are more likely to go on to higher education.  This seems to fit with the notion that when LGBTQ youth receive even a small amount of regular support or acceptance, they are healthier and happier.  A previous study showed that youth whose parents made even small efforts to be more accepting were had better mental health than those who don’t.

For more information on GSA’s, see the GSA Network.  This fantastic non-profit has information about how to find a GSA near you, and how to start and build one in your school!

How Silence Can Make You Sick

Confronting Health Disparities Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Youth

This article in Science Daily gives an overview of the state of health care for LGBTQ youth. In it they make an important point.  Often, in articles on LGBT youth and health it is emphasized that LGBT youth have a higher incidence of substance use, mental health concerns and suicide.  What authors often fail to point out is that this is due to victimization and social stigma — homophobia — in our culture.  Without this distinction, some readers can and do conclude that health problems with LGBTQ youth are due to some kind of inherent “sickness” that comes with being LGBTQ. Instead, Science Daily opens by saying:

Research indicates that the social stigma that surrounds lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens leads to a variety of health risks such as substance use, risky sexual behaviors, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and victimization.

An editorial in the September issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health calls on clinicians and health researchers to lead the charge in improving the health and well-being of U.S. LGBT teens. Clinicians can start by providing LGBT teens with high-quality, preventive care in a regular, private, and confidential environment. Health researchers can start by including information on sexual orientation and gender identity in health surveys and assessments.

However, receiving good health care requires more than just not having a negative reaction to a patient’s sexual orientation.  Science Daily refers to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health: “Healthcare Preferences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth”. This study uncovered that LGBTQ youth want the same health care as others do.  In fact, if they do not disclose their sexual orientation, it is often because no one asked:

Recent findings, from research by Dr. Schuster and others, have suggested that many clinicians do not know their patients’ sexuality in part because clinicians are not creating opportunities for teens to disclose it. (emphasis mine)

Rather than homophobia, this silence can be termed hetrocentrism, the tendency of our culture to assume that all people are heterosexual, that all relationships are heterosexual and that if non-heterosexual people do exist, we don’t really need to address their concerns.   It is often not done with malicious intentions and in fact, a certain number of people who acted in heterocentric ways would also say that they’d be very welcoming to a patient who revealed a non-heterosexual identity.  However, as these studies point out, LGBT youth will not receive the health care they need to address their issues as long as this silence persists.

Here are some ways that the silence can present itself in a health care setting:

The Outright Omission

Doctor before gynecological exam: So, do you have a boyfriend?

Bisexual girl: Um. No.

The Heterosexual Suggestion

Nurse: Are you dating right now?

Gay guy: Nope

Nurse: Don’t worry, the girls will come around; a handsome guy like you.

The Confusing Sex Question:

Doctor: Are you having sex? Do we need to talk about birth control?

Lesbian girl: (who might say that she is having sex, but context is now birth control, which she doesn’t need) Nope.

The Embarrassing Series of Questions

Nurse: Are you having sex?

College Girl: Yes, I am

Nurse: Are you using birth control?

College Girl: No

Nurse: Oh, are you trying to get pregnant?

College Girl: Nope

Nurse: OK, you do realize that if you’re having sex and not using birth control….

The Offhanded Comment

Doctor: How’s school going?

Bisexual guy: Great, I’m getting all A’s & B’s this semester.

Doctor: Ah, keeping your eye on your grades, and not the girls, huh?

Bisexual guy: I guess so.

These questions or comments might be well meaning, but can have the effect of shutting a young LGBT person down.  LGBTQ folks and especially youth are always scanning the environment for a sign that the person they will be speaking with will understand and accept their identity. The patient might think “Oh, this person doesn’t want to know that I have a boyfriend, and not a girlfriend.”  In other circumstances, important information may not be given because the answer to “do you have a boyfriend” is “no” leading the health professional to believe that the youth is not having sex, when they are.

All of these same questions apply to the client-therapist relationship.  A therapist seeing a young person may ask similar questions and fail to offer their LGBTQ youth client the full benefit of therapy due to assuming heterosexuality.

It is crucial that all practitioners in health professions use careful language to elicit open answers from youth about their sexual orientation.  It is more than a matter of making youth feel comfortable, it is about getting crucial information to them and countering our culture’s tendency to silence LGBTQ people.


LGBT Students of Color

Too often we assume that to be gay means to be white.  This bias leaves LGBT people of color and LGBT youth of color unrecognized as part of a demographic often hit hardest by discrimination and violence of all kinds.  In school, this translates to hampered academic achievement, missed school days and fearful students.  Daily fear and threat of violence, and extreme stress can trigger the development of traumatic reactions, anxiety, depression, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts and behavior.  I s0metimes challenge adults to imagine what it would be like to come into work every day and fear that you will be attacked and harassed by co-workers or your boss and that no one would do a thing about it.  Add to that experiencing racism and cultural misunderstandings on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, many adults do go to work under similar circumstances but at least get to speak about it to their spouses, friends and family.  LGBT children most often do not.

Making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, also means examining and acting upon the impact of racism and other forms of discrimination on our LGBTQ students (and indeed, all students).  Thanks to GLSEN’s study which came out early this year on the experiences of LGBT students of color in school.

GLSEN’s Press Release:

Shared Differences Examines LGBT Students of Color Experiences in School

NEW YORK:  LGBT students of color face unique and diverse challenges regarding victimization at school, according to Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools, a report released today by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.The report documents the experiences of over 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) middle and high school students of color who were African American or Black, Latino/a, Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American, and multiracial, using 2007 data collected as part of GLSEN’s biennial survey of LGBT students, the National School Climate Survey, along with results from in-depth individual and group interviews.

“While research on the experiences of LGBT students has increased in recent years, few studies have examined the specific victimization of students who identify as people of color and LGBT,” said GLSEN Executive

Director Dr. Eliza Byard. “Our schools are diverse environments, and it is important to understand how our students experiences differ based on personal characteristics such as race and ethnicity. This report provides alarming evidence that we must act now to ensure sure that America�s LGBT students of color are safe in school.”

The report also provides descriptions of the experiences of LGBT students of color in their own words.

“You could very well on any day hear someone yelling across the hall, ‘fag,’ etc,” said a 10th grade Latino male student in the report. “I’ve heard it before. … It’s hurtful because it’s just not something that you say. And it’s just generally hurtful. And I know that I’ll just be walking in a hallway, and someone will just say under their breath with a group of friends, “fag” … and hearing things like that in my school – it kind of brings me down almost. It kind of negates any hope that I have for our school to be a better place.”

Key Findings:

  • Across all groups, sexual orientation and gender expression were the most common reasons LGBT students of color reported feeling unsafe in school. More than four out of five students, within each racial/ethnic group, reported verbal harassment in school because of sexual orientation and about two-thirds because of gender expression. At least a third of each group reported physical violence in school because of sexual orientation.
  • More than half of African American/Black, Latino/a, Asian/Pacific Islander, and multiracial students also reported verbal harassment in school based on their race or ethnicity. Native American students (43%) were less likely than other students to report experiencing racially motivated verbal harassment.
  • About a quarter of African American/Black and Asian/Pacific Islander students had missed class or days of school in the past month because they felt unsafe. Latino/a, Native American, and multiracial students were even more likely to be absent for for safety reasons – about a third or more skipped class at least once or missed at least one day of school in the past month for safety reasons.
  • Native American students experienced particularly high levels of victimization because of their religion, with more than half reporting the highest levels of verbal harassment (54%), and a quarter experiencing physical violence (26%).
  • Less than half of students of color who had been harassed or assaulted in school in the past year said that they ever reported the incident to school staff. Furthermore, for those students who did report incidents to school staff, less than half believed that staff’s resulting response was effective.
  • Native American (57%) and multiracial (50%) students were more likely than other students of color in our survey to report incidents to a family member.
  • Performance at school also suffered when students experienced high levels of victimization. Students� overall GPA dropped when they reported high severities of harassment based on sexual orientation and/or race/ethnicity. Students experiencing high severities of harassment also reported missing school more often.
  • The report also looks at differing experiences based on the racial/ethnic make-up of students’ schools. For all groups, LGBT students of color who were minorities in their school were much more likely to feel unsafe and experience harassment because of their race or ethnicity than those who were in the racial/ethnic majority.
  • GLSEN is releasing the report in conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Organizing Weekend, which takes place January 16-19. Dr. MLK Jr. Organizing Weekend provides an opportunity for students and Gay-Straight Alliances to honor the coalition-building work of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, such as Bayard Rustin, by reaching out to others committed to working toward safe schools for all students.

    To download the full report, CLICK HERE.

    About GLSEN
    GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. For more information on GLSEN’s educational resources, public policy agenda, student organizing programs, research, public education or development initiatives, visit

    Sexual Orientation Disparities in Purging and Binge Eating From Early to Late Adolescence

    This new article in the Journal of Adolescent health suggests differences in eating disorders amongst LGBTQ youth in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts.

    Using a data collected from almost 14,000 youth aged 12 -23 they found that there were significant differences in  purging and binge eating along the lines of sexual orientation.  For example, they found that non-heterosexual women were more likely to binge eat than their heterosexaul counterparts.  Non-heterosexual males were more likely than heterosexual males to both binge eat and purge.

    At least one important implication here is that clinicians should consider sexual orientation as part of an evaulation of disordered eating.  It also implies to me that even though we’re not always sure exactly by what mechanism it happens the way it does, non-heterosexual youth health is impacted by oppression.

    See the abstract and full citation for this article here, at the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    Take the Queer Youth Campus Climate Survey!

    The National Queer Youth Annual Survey gathers data specific to the GLBTQIA students on campus about their experiences on campus. If you are 24 or under, you are eligible to take this online survey.  Plus, you can then enter to win an iPod!

    The survey is offered through Colorado’s LGBT Center and their youth program, Rainbow Alley.

    Take the Survey!

    Take the Survey!

    Gay kids still not protected in schools

    Gay kids still not protected in schools

    This article points out that although we’ve made great strides in safety for LGBTQ students in schools, many horrifying situations still exist.  There is a film that although met with a firestorm of controversy, has become an incredible resource for parents, students, and teachers alike: It’s Elementary.  This film, which the San Francisco Chronicle said “could become one of the most important films ever devoted to lesbian and gay issues”, looks at the debate around educating students about gay and lesbian issues.  It is sweet, touching and even funny.  Told through the words of children as young as first graders, it shows us the impact of homophobia on our society, the efforts of many teachers to go against the mainstream and teach acceptance around sexuality, and the openheartedness of many students when encountering gay and lesbian issues for the first time.

    Safe Space Sticker from GLSEN

    Safe Space Sticker from GLSEN

    LOGO will be showing a follow up video about the history of It’s Elementary call It’s STILL Elementary.  If you can get your hands on the original, or can watch LOGO’s retrospective, please do so.  And, pass the word.

    Many of the obstacles that were present when It’s Elementary was first released in 1996 still haunt our schools.  Students are still physically and verbally harassed (many to the point where they miss a great deal of school for fear of further harassment), there are still homophobic teachers and parents pressuring school boards to censor any information about gay and lesbian lives from the curriculum.

    However, there are also great strides with many more teachers speaking out, with a growing presence of GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).  Work in schools to increase acceptance and safety for LGBT students is essential both for the ongoing health of LGBT students but also for creating a community and culture that is just, accepting and informed about non-mainstream sexual orientations.  It remains clear that even the voice of one student activist, one teacher, school counselor or parent speaking for the rights of all students to attend school in safety can make an enormous difference.

    Have you had experiences of harassment in your school?  Was there a particular person you were able to turn to for help or solace?  Your comments are invited below!