Primary Sources: Looking at the Emotional Impact of Attending High School for LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Photograph of a young man in a classroom.

“Is There an Emotional Cost of Completing High School? Ecological Factors and Psychological Distress Among LGBT Homeless Youth" (abstract). Markus P. Bidell. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 61, Issue 3 (2014).

What it’s about: A New York-based researcher wanted to see the impact of home and school environments on homeless youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. In particular, he wanted to know if spending more time among unsupportive or abusive family members and classmates in order to finish high school comes at a psychological cost.

Enlisting the help of two research assistants, he recruited 89 young people ages 18 to 24 from an LGBTQ homeless shelter. Participants answered questions about their families, school climate and last grade completed before filling out the Brief Symptom Inventory to measure their levels of psychological distress.

Why read it: LGBTQ homeless youth report more serious problems at home, including fighting and abuse, than their heterosexual or non-homeless LGBTQ peers. These same youth, researchers find, are also more likely to experience bullying and harassment at school—which can lead to increased absences and gaps in their academic achievement.

This study looks at the potential effects of home and school life on young people’s educational and psychological well-being, particularly when such environments breed fear and rejection. Family and youth workers who understand this connection can better address the emotions and experiences that lead LGBTQ youth to run away or drop out. Agencies may also use this information to collaborate with local schools or develop LGBTQ-friendly programs for attaining a General Equivalency Diploma.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The study found that family-based harassment was more psychologically distressful to participants than harassment occurring at school. Many participants also reported negative educational outcomes, with nearly 40 percent saying they dropped out of high school and most leaving in their junior or senior year.

Additionally, most participants said their school lacked a gay-straight alliance and that they never reached out to a teacher, counselor or school administrator with questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Limited school support may play a role, the author writes, especially as other studies find that LGBTQ students with supportive school staff report better grades and heightened sense of belonging. But further research is needed, he adds, to make sure that the same family dynamics that contribute to LGBTQ homelessness do not overshadow young people’s ability to recognize and seek out school-based resources.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on LGBTQ youth in our digital library.

In addition, the 2011 National School Climate Survey released by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network captures the school-based experiences of more than 8,500 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 20. The survey group includes, but is not limited to young people experiencing homelessness.

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

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