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Research > Research on LGBT by the CDC

CDC: Stigma hurts LGB youth.

The following is an excerpt from an article published in June, 2011 by Dana Rudolph entitled CDC: Stigma hurts LGB youth.

Click here to read the research from the CDC.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to be at increased risk for unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use; sexual behaviors that could lead to infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; attempting suicide; and violence, according to a groundbreaking new federal study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the results of the study, "Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 in Selected Sites - Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2001-2009," on Monday, June 6. It represents the first time the federal government has conducted such a far-reaching analysis of LGB youth.

Laura Kann, chief of the Surveillance and Evaluation Research Branch within the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, said that she attributes the "disproportionate" risks of LGB youth to the social difficulties they face, such as stigma, discrimination, and rejection by their families. This creates an environment that contributes to their "disproportionate" health risk behaviors.

Researchers analyzed data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys of seven states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin - and six large urban school districts - Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco. The CDC funds these surveys of high school students every two years at the national, state, and local levels.

States and school districts may choose to collect data on the students' sexual identity (heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or unsure), the gender of their sexual contacts (both genders, opposite gender only, or same gender only), or both. The states and districts studied by the CDC had collected data on sexual identity and gender of sexual contacts for at least two survey cycles. (Most surveys do not ask about gender identity, however, and therefore the CDC could not study transgender youth as a distinct group.)

The CDC found that gay and lesbian students (and those who have sex only with a person of the same gender, regardless of how they identify themselves) had higher risks than heterosexual students in seven of 10 major health risk categories: behaviors related to violence (which could include not going to school because of safety concerns), attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management (body image).

Bisexual students (and those who have sex with both genders, regardless of how they identify themselves) had higher risks than heterosexual students in the above categories plus an additional category: behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries (such as not wearing a seatbelt).

Confirms other studies

The CDC findings confirm previous studies conducted by other researchers, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's 2009 National School Climate Survey, which found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the previous year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

A study in the May issue of the Journal of School Health,by Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., distinguished professor at the University of Arizona, and Caitlin Ryan, Ph.D., director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, found that anti-LGBT bullying at school "is strongly linked" to negative mental health for its victims. Among those risks are an increased frequency of suicide attempts and increased risk for engaging in behaviors that can lead to infection with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. The increased risks exist not only while the victim is in adolescence, but also in young adulthood.