Friday, December 24, 2010

Bullying, Part 2 - Targeting LGBT Youth

In part one of this two-part post, I offered an article from the Boston Globe on the horrible and lasting effects bullying can have on the child's brain. LGBT youth are easy targets for harassment and bullying by their fellow students, and even by school authorities (LGBT youth are 40 percent more likely than other teens to be punished by school authorities, police and the courts).

On the bright side, support and acceptance by parents can help mitigate the impact of that harassment - when that support and existence exists, that is. There is also, now, the It Gets Better Project, initiated by Dan Savage.

For a variety of reasons, gay youth are the most common targets. Lesbian youth are not as ostracized and transgender youth are far less common (though they may be more troubled if they are identified by peers). This comes from the It Gets Better Project website.

Growing up isn’t easy. Many young people face daily tormenting and bullying, leading them to feel like they have nowhere to turn. This is especially true for LGBT kids and teens, who often hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. Without other openly gay adults and mentors in their lives, they can't imagine what their future may hold. In many instances, gay and lesbian adolescents are taunted — even tortured — simply for being themselves.

Justin Aaberg. Billy Lucas. Cody Barker. Asher Brown. Seth Walsh. Raymond Chase. Tyler Clementi. They were tragic examples of youth who could not believe that it does actually get better.

While many of these teens couldn’t see a positive future for themselves, we can. The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.

Fortunately, mental health services can also help - and may be a necessity when parents are not accepting and supportive. This comes from the Center for American Progress.

Idea of the Day: Mental Health Services Can Help LGBT Youth Cope with Harassment

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers are some of the most vulnerable of people in the United States today. They face discrimination and harassment from a variety of different sources: bullying and harassment in schools, rejection at home, and condemnation from media and religious organizations. A fear of persecution encourages many LGBT teens to keep their real identities hidden.

Living with the stress of a marginalized identity has clear and negative effects on the mental health of LGBT youth. They are consistently reported as having higher rates of depression and anxiety than their non-LGBT peers. Even more troubling, studies have demonstrated that these young adults are more likely than non-LGBT teenagers to engage in self-harm, have suicidal thoughts, and attempt suicide.

Providing LGBT adolescents with access to mental health services is essential to helping them cope with the extreme pressures that have led many of them to consider suicide. Numerous studies have already demonstrated the benefits of mental health treatment for people suffering from depression and other mood disorders. Mental health counseling and therapy have a high probability of improving the mental health and wellbeing of teens, even when unaccompanied by medication.

For more on this topic please see:

I find it especially disturbing that adults - school officials, law enforcement, and the courts are more likely to punish LGBT youth that other young people. Apparently, lesbian youth are twice as likely to be stopped by police than their peers. My question on that would be: Is this about their sexual preference or is a form of sexual harassment?

Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens singled out for punishment

Posted On: December 6, 2010

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents are about 40 percent more likely than other teens to be punished by school authorities, police and the courts, according to a study by Yale University researchers. Published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study is the first to document excessive punishment of LGB youth nationwide.

"We found that virtually all types of punishment—including school expulsions, arrests, juvenile convictions, adult convictions and especially police stops—were more frequently meted out to LGB youth," said lead author Kathryn Himmelstein, who initiated the study while she was a Yale undergraduate. The research was supervised by Hannah Brueckner, professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course at Yale.

The study was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and included about 15,000 middle and high school students who were followed for seven years into early adulthood. The study collected details on participants' sexuality, including feelings of sexual attraction, sexual relationships and self-labeling as LGB. Add Health also surveyed participants about how frequently they engaged in a variety of misbehaviors, ranging in severity from lying to parents, to using a weapon.

Add Health included detailed questions about school expulsions and contacts with the criminal justice system.

Himmelstein, who now teaches math at a public high school in New York City, said that adolescents who identified themselves as LGB were about 50 percent more likely to be stopped by police than other teenagers. Teens who reported feelings of attraction to members of the same sex, regardless of their self-identification, were more likely than other teens to be expelled from school or convicted of crimes as adults.

"Girls who labeled themselves as lesbian or bisexual were especially at risk for unequal treatment," said Himmelstein. "They reported experiencing twice as many police stops, arrests and convictions as other girls who had engaged in similar behavior. Although we did not explore the experiences of transgender youth, anecdotal reports suggest that they are similarly at risk for excessive punishment."

The study showed that these disparities in punishments are not explained by differences in the rates of misbehavior. In fact, the study showed that adolescents who identified themselves as LGB actually engaged in less violence than their peers.

"The painful, even lethal bullying that LGB youth suffer at the hands of their peers has been highlighted by recent tragic events," Himmelstein notes. "Our numbers suggest that school officials, police and judges, who should be protecting LGB youth, are instead singling them out for punishment based on their sexual orientation. LGB teens can't thrive if adults single them out for punishment because of their sexual orientation."

Brueckner added, "The study provides the first and only national estimates for over-representation of LGB youth in the criminal justice system. We simply did not have any good numbers on this before. We need more research on the processes that lead to this to help us identify ways to make our institutions more equitable with respect to policing all youth, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation."

~ Source: Yale University
Finally, there is this piece that shows how important it is for parents to be supportive. Many parents want to be supportive, but they were raised with values that reject LGBT people as sinful, or a mental illness, or whatever. They struggle to overcome their internalized beliefs - to accept and love their children - but they often do not know how. The Family Acceptance Project can help parents develop the skills they need.

Study finds family acceptance of LGBT youth protects against depression, substance abuse, suicide

Posted On: December 6, 2010

For the first time, researchers have established a clear link between accepting family attitudes and behaviors towards their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and significantly decreased risk and better overall health in adulthood. The study shows that specific parental and caregiver behaviors -- such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression -- protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood.

In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood. The study is published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, a journal of the International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses, in a peer-reviewed article titled "Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults."

Despite all the recent attention to health risks and disparities for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, prior to this study, little was known about how families express acceptance and support for their LGBT children. Moreover, no prior research had examined the relationship between family acceptance of LGBT adolescents and health and mental health concerns in emerging adulthood.

"At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience, our findings that family acceptance protects against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression and substance abuse offer a gateway to hope for LGBT youth and families that struggle with how to balance deeply held religious and personal values with love for their LGBT children," said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. "I have worked on LGBT health and mental health for 35 years and putting our research into practice by developing a new model to help diverse families support their LGBT children is the most hopeful work I've ever done."

Ann P. Haas, Ph.D., Director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted, "With this new groundbreaking study, Ryan and her colleagues have provided the strongest evidence to date that acceptance and support from parents and caregivers promote well-being among LGBT youth and help protect them from depression and suicidal behavior. These findings open the door to a whole new focus on how families can be helped to more fully engage in the kind of behaviors that reduce suicide risk in LGBT adolescents and young adults."

"Times have changed," said Stephen Russell, PhD, President Elect of the Society for Research on Adolescence and a consultant to the Family Acceptance Project. "More and more families want to be accepting of their children. Yet, many families still struggle when a child comes out as LGBT. It's essential to have research like this to deeply understand the ways that families show their acceptance, so that we can identify how to support families."

The study, authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team from the Family Acceptance Project, which shows that accepting behaviors of parents and caregivers towards their LGBT children are protective against mental health risks – including suicidal behaviors -- has critical implications for changing how families relate to their LGBT children and how LGBT youth are served by a wide range of providers across disciplines and systems of care, including custodial care systems such as foster care. The study was funded by The California Endowment, a health foundation dedicated to expanding access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities.

Major Research Findings:

  • Family accepting behaviors towards LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse.
  • LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
  • LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family rejection during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance.
  • High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.

Dr. Ryan and her team at the Family Acceptance Project are currently developing a new evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care for LGBT adolescents, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This model uses a behavioral approach to help ethnically and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children to reduce risk for suicide, depression, substance abuse, and HIV, to promote well-being and to prevent homelessness and placement in custodial care. This systems-level approach helps communities and providers to engage diverse families as allies in decreasing their LGBT children's risk and increasing their well-being while respecting the family's deeply held values. This work is being conducted in English, Spanish and Chinese with families from all ethnic backgrounds, including immigrant and very low income families, and those whose children are out-of-home in foster care and juvenile justice facilities.

The existing approach to serving LGBT adolescents by pediatricians, nurses, social workers, school counselors and others has focused almost exclusively on serving LGBT youth alone and through peer support, rather than in the context of their families, and does not consider the impact of family reactions on the adolescent's health and well-being.

In addition to providing direct services for families with LGBT children and working with communities in the U.S., the Family Acceptance Project is collaborating with organizations, providers, advocates and families to develop an international movement of family acceptance to promote wellness and healthy futures for LGBT children, youth and young adults.

"Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults" is the third in a series of research papers on outcomes related to family acceptance and rejection of LGBT adolescents, supporting positive LGBT youth development, school experiences and providing family-related care to be released by the Family Acceptance Project.

These studies will be published in peer-reviewed journals designed for providers, caregivers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and practice settings.

~ Source: San Francisco State University

Here are a few resources for LGBT youth and their families - if you need some support, these people can help, and connect you with someone who can.

National Sexuality Resource Center

2017 Mission Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94110
415-437-5121 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 415-437-5121 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

The National Sexuality Resource Center is a sexuality information center affiliated with the Human Sexuality Studies Program at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The Center collects and disseminates the latest information and research on sexual health, education, and rights to advocates, academics, researchers, policy makers, and diverse communities throughout the U.S.

LGBT Family-Related Organizations


(National Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays)
1726 M Street, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC, 20036
202-467-8180 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 202-467-8180 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

National organization for education, advocacy and support for families and friends of LGBT persons. Chapters are available in all states – check website for local chapters and educational materials for families.

HRC FamilyNet

Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Avenue
Washington, DC 20036
202-628-4160 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 202-628-4160 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

A resource and online information base for LGBT families sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign.

Children of Lesbian and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE)

2300 Market Street, Box 165
San Francisco, CA 94114
415-861-5437 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 415-861-5437 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

National organization for children of LGBT parents.

Family Pride Coalition

PO Box 65327
Washington, DC 20035-5327
202-331-5015 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 202-331-5015 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

National organization to provide advocacy and support for LGBT parents and their families.

LGBT Youth Organizations

National Youth Advocacy Coalition

1638 R Street NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20009
202.319.7596 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 202.319.7596 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Toll-free: 800-541-6922 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-541-6922 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

National advocacy organization for LGBT youth. Youth conferences and education.

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