A new report finds that gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students are more likely than heterosexual students to engage in such risky behavior as smoking, drinking alcohol and carrying guns. The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed 156,000 high school students and was released on Monday. This is the largest of its kind by the federal government.
Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Heath said, “This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people. We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”
The team looked at data from student surveys conducted from 2001-2009 in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, and also in the Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego and San Francisco school districts.
Some of their findings were surprising. When asked if they had driven a car while drinking alcohol within the last 30 days, 15.4 percent of gay and lesbian students said they had, compared to 7.8 percent of heterosexual students. When asked about guns 12 percent of gay and lesbian students said they had carried a gun at least one day during the previous month, almost four times more than heterosexual students. 27.8 percent of gay and lesbian students reporting they had smoked more than 10 cigarettes in a day during the previous month compared to 9.1 percent of heterosexual students. Nearly 30 percent of gay, lesbian students said they had considered suicide compared to 11.7 percent of heterosexual students.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual youths are often driven to risky behavior because they are rejected by their families and other support groups, said Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis counseling and suicide prevention programs for youths. “We've known this for years but the research hasn't been there to back it up,” she said. She urged the policymakers to more training for school staff members to deal with this problem. Wechsler said efforts to promote adolescent health and safety should take into account the “additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination, and victimization.”