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Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Face More Violence and Sexual Risks than Peers

Supporting and engaging sexual minority youth
  • Tweet This #LGB youth experience more violence and depression than their heterosexual peers, according to new @CDCgov data.
  • Tweet This More than 1 in 10 #LGB students skipped school in the last month because they didn’t feel safe.
  • Tweet This #LGB youth have twice the risk of unintended pregnancy as their heterosexual peers.

For the first time, a nationwide, representative survey asked students about their sexuality. Although previous research has shown that sexual minority youth, identified by their sexual identity or sexual contact, are at greater risk for violence and poor health, 2015 was the first year that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assessed sexual identity in its annual survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). The YRBSS is considered the gold standard in adolescent health, and, in 2015, it identified youth as a sexual minority if they reported being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). The survey illuminated the stark disparities among LGB youth. According to Dr. Jonathan Mermin, a senior official at CDC, in an interview with the New York Times, the health risks that LGB youth face are “heartbreaking.”

The FindingsBar graph showing violence among LGB versus heterosexual youth. 18% of LBG youth experience rape compared with 5% of heterosexual youth; 23% of LGB youth experience sexual dating violence compared with 9% heterosexual youth; 24% LGB youth experience in-school bullying compared with 19% heterosexual youth; and 28% of LGB youth experience online bullying compared with 14% heterosexual youth.

An estimated 1.3 million high schoolers in the United States identify as LGB. As they transition from adolescence into adulthood, they are much more likely to experience violence than their heterosexual peers, including rape, dating violence, and bullying.  

These threats of violence impact the daily lives of LGB teens, causing more than 1 in 10 LGB students to skip school in the prior 30 days out of concern for their safety. Experiencing violence also can contribute to severe mental and emotional consequences. Data show that 40% of LGB students have seriously considered and 29% have attempted suicide in the past 12 months. Also, the majority of LGB students (60%) reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness that affected their regular activities.

In addition, LGB youth are at greater risk of unsafe sexual behaviors, which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. According to the YRBSS, disparities in sexual behaviors include first sexual intercourse before age 13, sexual intercourse with four or more partners, and alcohol or drug use before sex. Among sexually active youth, LGB students are less likely to perform behaviors to protect themselves from STIs and pregnancy, including condom and contraception use.

How Your Program Can Help

Given the scope of these challenges, we cannot expect them to disappear overnight. However, you and your program can help LGB youth feel safe and supported. The following are some tips for how to do this:

  • Ensure that your program environment is supportive and inclusive, and clarify your expectations to employees, partners, and the people you serve. When referring to relationships, use neutral terms like “partner” rather than “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” See our infographic How to Be an Ally to the LGBTQ+ Community.
  • Be on alert for exclusive or bullying behavior among your participants, and take steps to address it while respecting your LGB participants.
  • Incorporate the topic of healthy relationships into your program, or offer an existing evidence-supported program that focuses on healthy relationships, like The Fourth R or Safe Dates. Provide examples of what to expect in healthy relationships in addition to the types of relationship behaviors to avoid.
  •  Be on the lookout for absenteeism among your program participants, particularly if you run a school-based program. Frequent absences could alert you to an issue that an LGB participant is experiencing, such as feeling unsafe at school.
  • Access FYSB’s online training module “Creating a Safe Space for LGBTQ Teens” for additional resources and tips to ensure that your program is as sensitive and inclusive as it can be.

About the Data

CDC’s YRBSS is a nationally representative survey of high school students. Data were collected from September 2014 to December 2015 on 118 health-related behaviors that fall into six categories: violence, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, sex, diet, and physical activity. CDC released an in-depth analysis of the survey data on August 12, 2016.

How does your program engage LGB youth?
Share your favorite strategy by tweeting at @FYSBgov.


Page last updated: December 12, 2016
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