The numbers are in: youths who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more likely to feel unsafe, bullied, engage in risky behaviors and attempt suicide.
During each odd-numbered year, Massachusetts conducts an anonymous survey of high school students in the state focusing on risk behaviors threatening their health and safety, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
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As part of the survey, students are asked to specify their sexual orientation. Looking at the collected information and comparing the experiences of heterosexual students and lesbian, gay and bisexual students provides insight into the amplified challenges faced by this minority population.
In the 2017 survey, 9.6 percent of students identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 1.7 percent identified as transgender.
The survey showed that lesbian, gay and bisexual students were bullied more in school and feared more for their personal safety. Around 21.4 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students reported being electronically bullied and 25.7 percent reported being bullied on school grounds, compared to 12.2 and 12.8 percent of their heterosexual peers, respectively.
Within the lesbian, gay and bisexual population, 11.3 percent said they’d skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from, compared with only 3.2 percent of the straight population.
The responses regarding mental health showed a wide divide among experiences: 56 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported feeling sad or hopeless, nearly double their heterosexual peers at 23.7 percent.
Around 35.6 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students said they’d seriously considered attempting suicide and 12.8 had attempted suicide, compared to 9.4 and 3.5 percent of their peers.
The lesbian, gay and bisexual students were more likely to have drunk alcohol (70.3 percent) and to have tried marijuana (51.3 percent), heroin (3.6 percent), methamphetamines (3 percent) and ecstasy (6 percent).
They were also more sexually active, with 44.9 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students saying they’d have sex, compared to 35.1 percent of heterosexual students.
Experiencing sexual violence was also more prevalent: 15.9 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual students said they’d been physically forced to have sex, compared to 5.6 percent of their peers. 22.7 percent had experienced sexual violence by anyone and 16.7 had experienced sexual dating violence, compared to 8.5 and 3.7 percent of their heterosexual counterparts.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Follow James Kukstis on Twitter at @MarinerJamesK