Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian Adolescents More Likely to Be Punished

Bisexual, gay, and lesbian youth are more likely than their straight peers to be punished by their school or the criminal justice system for the same transgressions.

In an analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, teenagers attracted to people of the same sex were 41 percent more likely to be expelled from school, and 42 percent more likely to be convicted of a crime as an adult, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.

The study highlights the extent of bias and intimidation experienced by non-heterosexual teens, said study author Kathryn Himmelstein. Some suicides of gay teenagers, including that of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, have been linked to peer bullying. It appears that bias against gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers extends to adults as well, Himmelstein said.

“It’s not just kids who are bullying, adults are stacking the deck,” said Himmelstein, who is now a high school teacher in New York. The paper was completed when she was an undergraduate at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

The differences weren’t explained by greater participation by gay and lesbian teenagers in illegal behaviors or actions that violated rules, the paper found.

The research also found that gay and lesbian teenagers were 38 percent more likely to be stopped by the police, compared with heterosexual teenagers, and 53 percent more likely if they identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Suicide Risk

Research has shown that gay and lesbian teenagers are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide. Suicides of students such as Clementi, who was a freshman at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, have sparked campaigns against bullying.

Clementi plunged from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22, three days after live video of a sexual encounter between him and another man was transmitted on the Internet, according to Middlesex County, New Jersey, prosecutor Bruce Kaplan. Two persons were charged with invasion of privacy in the incident.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education said schools that don’t address the bullying of gay students may lose government funds for failing to enforce gender-discrimination laws.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Acceptance of gay and lesbians in the military and the U.S. “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy still sparks controversy. A Pentagon study released Nov. 30 found that ending the U.S. military’s ban on letting gay and lesbian individuals serve openly would present a “low” risk to overall troop effectiveness. The ban was repealed by the U.S. House earlier this year. President Barack Obama has called on the Senate to repeal it as well.

Himmelstein and co-author Hannah Bruckner, a sociology professor at Yale, analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of 20,745 teenagers in grades 7 through 12 in the U.S. in 1994-1995 and a follow-up, of 15,197 young adults, in 2001-2002.

People who work with adolescents need to be aware of the challenges that face gay teenagers, Himmelstein said.

“Institutions need to design policies for treating all youth fairly and equally,” she said.

In a separate report, San Francisco State University researchers found that an accepting family significantly lowered the risk of suicide attempts, substance abuse and depression in gay teenagers, according to a study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE