Lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students across the United States experience substantially higher levels of physical and sexual violence and bullying than their peers, according to the first national survey of sexual practice and identity among adolescents.
“The scope and magnitude are heartbreaking,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who oversees the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the survey on Thursday.
Among the more alarming findings: Nearly 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens said they had thought seriously thought about committing suicide. That’s nearly three times the rate at which their heterosexual peers contemplated it.
And 29 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens made a suicide attempt, compared to 6 percent of their straight classmates.
LGBT youth face the same stresses as their peers, in terms of pressure at school and at home. But they also have an extra burden — “the reality of being a minority in places where it’s still acceptable to openly discriminate against them,” said David Bond, a social worker and vice president of programs at The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention program focused on LGBT youth.
“It’s time for everyone to understand this is a public health issue,” Bond said, calling on schools to make clear that such intolerance is not acceptable.
The disparities are stark and go far beyond suicide. For instance, 18 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens reported being physically forced to have sex. Among their heterosexual peers, just 5 percent experienced this trauma.
Dating violence affected 23 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens, compared to just 9 percent of their peers.
And about a third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens reported being bullied at school or online — again, far more than their heterosexual classmates.
The one question the data cannot answer is why the disparities are so big, said Dr. Deb Houry, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. But other research suggests that LGBT youth may be at higher risk because of social isolation, lack of parental support, or not being perceived as being masculine or feminine enough.
“Parents can help by fostering resiliency and teaching nonviolent problem-solving skills,” Houry said.
She added that it’s important for schools to teach teens how to intervene to help each other when they see bullying or violence.