By Erin Delmore
A devastating portrayal of growing up LGBT. A first-of-its-kind, nationwide study from the Centers for Disease Control shows elevated rates of bullying, physical violence, rape, drug use, depression and suicide among America’s sexual minority students.
“We have known for a long time that sexual minority youth and other minority youth are incredibly challenged in their educational environments by bullying, bias and humiliation,” said Sean Kosofsky, executive director for the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
“Eighteen percent of gay/lesbian/bisexual high school students have ever been forced to have sexual intercourse compared to 5 percent of their heterosexual peers. Twenty-three percent have experienced sexual dating violence compared to 9 percent of their heterosexual peers. And 34 percent have been bullied at school compared to 19 percent of their heterosexual peers. So, the differences are stark and concerning and literally heartbreaking,” said Dr. Laura Kann, Division of Adolescent and School Health for the CDC.
More than 15,000 high school students took part in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Of them, 8 percent identified as a minority sexual orientation. That’s 1.3 million students nationwide.
“What I’m seeing now is more and more of our students are feeling a little more safe, at least in our environment, to come out. And in doing so, they’re leaving themselves wide open,” said Sue Henderson, guidance counselor and advisor of the Gay Straight Alliance at Ocean Township High School.
Among the report’s findings: LGBT students are three times more likely to be raped, twice as likely to be injured or threatened with a weapon on school grounds. At least a third reported being bullied at school. Six percent of LGBT students said they’d tried heroin, compared with fewer than 2 percent of their straight peers. And more than 40 percent reported seriously considering suicide. Twenty-nine percent said they made an attempt on their own lives in the previous year.
“I’ve dealt with students that have anxiety, depression. At Ocean we had a student, unfortunately, she was out. She was one of our first students to go to prom with her girlfriend, but she went away to college and she jumped in front of a train and killed herself,” Henderson said.
Henderson said she worries about her students’ transition from high school in New Jersey to colleges and universities in parts of the country that may be less tolerant.
“Being a white young gay person in Los Angeles is a lot different than being a trans woman of color in the South,” said David Bond.
Bond of The Trevor Project said he sees the biggest difference between rural and urban locations. He said around 20 percent of the 55,000 crisis calls his organization receives every year come from the Northeast.
“I think it definitely depends on what area of the country you are and how proactive your school is itself. I came from a very proactive school where I was the president of my school’s GSA and we had a really awesome administration. Our principal, our vice principals, took zero bullying. There was almost no bullying at my school if you’re LGBT, but that’s very different from even the next town over,” said LGBT student Elyse Hazel.
“Well, what’s a little different from when I was in high school is, there’s something called social media. And so I think that while, back in the day, we could escape and go home and maybe read a book, today you go home and that same bully is on your social feed maybe calling you names. It’s nonstop and so that’s why I think we’re seeing increases in some numbers like drug abuse and suicide because it just never ends at this point,” Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino said.
Advocates praise New Jersey for having some of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and for being one of the first states to ban gay conversion therapy. But they say there’s still a long way to go toward building safe schools, tolerant communities and resilient students.