Primary Sources: Understanding and Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth

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Recent research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, often referred to as LGBT or GLBT, often endure discrimination and intolerance, from social rejection and isolation to verbal and physical abuse. These experiences may contribute to the higher rates of depression, suicide and running away among LGBT youth, who make up between four and ten percent of American young people. What’s more, an estimated one out of every five homeless youth (PDF, 279 KB; National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2009)--and some researchers say more--identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Researchers are looking into ways that schools, shelters and agencies can support fair treatment and safety for youth, regardless of sexual orientation.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau or the Administration for Children and Families.)

Emotional Distress Among LGBT Youth: The Influence of Perceived Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation” (abstract), featured in a special issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence (August 2009) investigates whether high school students are more likely to feel emotionally distressed because of what they perceive as homophobic discrimination at school. Respondents who reported having been discriminated against on the basis of minority sexual orientation were significantly more likely than those who did not to report that they had hurt themselves. These results, the authors write, indicate that more work needs to be done to make school climates more welcoming.

If homophobia among straight youth contributes negatively to the health and safety of LGBT youth, then understanding the attitudes of straight youth toward homosexuality is important. “Willingness to Remain Friends and Attend School with Lesbian and Gay Peers: Relational Expressions of Prejudice Among Heterosexual Youth” (abstract), also published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence last August, looks at two large samples of middle school and high school youth to examine heterosexual students’ willingness to remain friends and attend school with peers who come out. Younger adolescents, girls and students who attended racially diverse schools were more willing to be friends with gay and lesbian youth compared to older adolescents, boys and those attending more homogenous schools. While intervention programs must continue to address blatant bigotry and violence against LGBT youth, the authors say, there is also a significant need to address homophobic attitudes and other more subtle expressions of prejudice in schools. (For more research about homophobia in schools, see this Primary Sources article.)

When intolerance at home drives youth onto the streets, they are at great risk of being abused or sexually exploited. But oftentimes, youth feel unwelcome in shelters for homeless youth. The authors of “National Recommended Best Practices for Serving LGBT Homeless Youth” (National Alliance to End Homelessness, Lambda Legal, National Network for Youth, and National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2009) survey the past 15 years of research and outline how staff of emergency shelters and transitional living programs can ensure that homeless LGBT youth feel safe and comfortable. Recommendations include:

  • placing youth in living arrangements based on what they feel comfortable with (some may be more comfortable with roommates of the opposite sex and others with their birth sex);
  • putting in place house rules that protect youth from verbal harassment and violence; and
  • ensuring that intake questions reflect both birth sex and gender identity.

Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.



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