We Must Do More to Support Young People
Earlier today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first nationally representative data on the health behaviors among gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) high school students, Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors among Students in Grades 9–12 – United States and Selected Sites, 2015.
More than 11 percent of high school students nationwide, an estimated 1.8 million students, identify as LGB or not sure about their sexual orientation. There is little variation in these reported rates across the country.
Unfortunately, these data show that LGB high school students’ reported rates of rape, sexual and physical dating violence, and being bullied were three-times the rates of their heterosexual peers. Distressingly, LGB high school students also reported much higher rates of considering or attempting suicide in the prior year and were up to five times more likely to report drug use.
While these findings do not explore the causes behind the reported health behaviors of students, we know that we are not providing young people with the information they need to lead healthy lives. For instance, a 2013 study found that fewer than 5% of LGB and transgender (LGBT) students had health classes that included positive representations of LGBT related topics.
This is an unsurprising yet stark reality check that we are failing our nation’s young LGB people. The significantly higher rates of rape, violence, bullying, mental health challenges, and substance abuse that young LGB people face must be a rallying cry for us as advocates, educators, parents, peers, and community partners to support our nation’s youth.
In our current social and cultural climate, where stigma and shame around one’s sexual orientation is still prevalent, we must demand policy changes that support inclusive, responsive, and non-shaming and non-stigmatizing sexuality education; create safe and supportive environments, particularly in our nation’s schools; and establish linkages to trusted sources of care and services for young people. Moreover, these efforts, policy shifts, and resources must be culturally competent and reflect the lived experiences of young people and the barriers, challenges, and traumas they face as individuals and not reduce young people to risk behavior outcome data-points.
These findings are possible due to the addition of two questions to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) providing students the opportunity to report their sexual orientation and the sex of their sexual partners if they are sexually active. The addition of sexual orientation questions in the YRBS is an important step in the right direction, however in an environment where systemic racial disparities persist, we cannot continue to examine these findings in silos. We must also find a way to enable students to report on their gender identity. Just like our efforts to demand policy changes, our data gathering should fully incorporate the identities and lived experiences of all young people across the nation.
SIECUS looks forward to working with you to advance the health and rights of our nation’s youth.
The complete report and state-by-state breakdowns can be found on CDC’s website.