We all have those memories. Those memories where you were suddenly, and mortifyingly, the center of negative social attention. Even the most popular among us has dealt with teasing, bullying, or worse. But for many lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and questioning kids—or those who are perceived as LGBTQ because of social stigmas—the harassment from other students, teachers, parents, and even strangers can be far greater.
When we think about our health, many of us think of diabetes, blood pressure, chicken pox. And LGBTQ adolescents and teens have all the same health issues as their non-LGBTQ counterparts. But, in addition, the stresses LGBTQ youth experience put them at greater risk for mental health problems, substance use, and physical health problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) list 'violence' as the top health concern for LGBTQ youth (people under the age of 24). Violence in this case is broadly defined as bullying, harassment, teasing, physical assault, and suicidal behaviors.
Various studies show that LGBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide. A study of 7,000 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 21 showed:
- Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school;
- Four of ten had been physically harassed at school;
- Six of ten felt unsafe at school; and
- One of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school.
Worse, bring the lack of safety into a young person's home and youth health risks are even higher. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed that compared with LGBTQ young adults who experienced very little or no parental rejection, LGBTQ young adults who experienced high levels of rejection were:
- Nearly 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression;
- More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
- More than 3 times as likely to engage in unprotected sexual behaviors that put them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
For an astounding number, the issue of home safety has driven them to the streets—either by choice or by force. More than 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ.
The solutions? The resources available to begin healing society and building a world in which all individuals are accepted and affirmed are many—and growing. There are just a few listed at the end of this article. For parents and guardians of youth who may be LGBT or questioning, finding a health provider with whom they can talk, can be open, and can feel safe is crucial. Especially important is finding a provider who will offer, or making available in schools, sex education that actually includes LGBTQ resources and information.