Students who report being gay, lesbian, or bisexual are more likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking, dietary behaviors, drug use, sexually risky behaviors, suicidal behaviors, and violence, says a June 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research was analyzed from seven states and six large urban school districts – Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students had higher prevalence rates for seven of 10 health risks measured.
The report states that anti-gay harassment and discrimination are to blame for the increases. According to Safe at School: Addressing the School Environment and LGBT Safety through Policy and Legislation by Stuart Biegel and Sheila James Kuehl, a 2008 national study by GLSEN found that 86.2% of LGBT public school students reported verbal harassment, 44.1% were physically harassed, and 22.1% were physically assaulted. However, the majority of students did not notify school officials “believing that little or no action would be taken or that the situation might even be exacerbated if reported.”
“They need to have a solid identity,” says Robert Perkins, a Cincinnati adolescent psychiatric social worker. “They need to be comfortable with being gay, not cover it up or hide it. They need to feel comfortable openly dating same-sex peers. Above all, they need to know they are accepted by their parents and peers.”
Perkins would like to see all schools offer support groups “in which gay students could discuss issues, specific to them, as well as provide forums to educate peers and teachers.”
There are at least four steps schools must take to ensure student safety and acceptance, according to GLSEN, Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. These include:
- Adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity.
2. Train all staff members to know what anti-gay bullying looks and sounds like – name-calling and harassment – and address it swiftly.
3. Support student effortsto address anti-gay bullying, such as starting a Gay-Straight Alliance or participating in events such as the National Day of Silence and Ally Week.
(On the “National Day of Silence,” gay and straight students remain mute to bring attention to anti-gay bullying. The next one is April 20, 2012. “Ally Week” was created to encourage students and staff to ally against anti-gay name-calling and other bullying in school. The next one is October 18 – 22, 2012.)
4. Create age-appropriate curriculum to encourage acceptance. One example is No-Name Week, set up for January 23-27, 2012.
Support and acceptance from families as well as school staff is crucial for healthy development of adolescent psyches, says Perkins.
“Their families need to love and support them, no matter what.” He suggests that parents not force their own religious, political, or world views on gay children “in order to fix them.” Instead, he suggests that parents “educate themselves” on homosexuality.
“Talk to your kids. Connect them to community support services, groups, and therapy, if needed.” He also recommends PFLAG for parents.