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Study: Gay Teens More Likely to be Punished for Misdeeds

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: A study recently published in the journal "Pediatrics" has found that gay teenagers face more and harsher punishment than straight teens, even though they are no more likely than their straight peers to misbehave. In fact, when it comes to serious misdeeds, gay teens are less likely to be at fault than straight teens, but more likely to face punishment -- including school expulsion, arrest and conviction.

The study, which looked at a national sample of teenagers from grades seven through 12, concluded that:

  • Nonheterosexual youth suffer disproportionate educational and criminal-justice punishments that are not explained by greater engagement in illegal or transgressive behaviors.
  • Understanding and addressing these disparities might reduce school expulsions, arrests and incarceration -- and their dire social and health consequences.

Study author Kathryn Himmelstein, who began her research as an undergraduate at Yale, told the New York Times that she began the project after noticing how many kids in the juvenile justice system (where she was working) were gay. It turned out that gay kids were being disproportionately stopped and punished, probably because of unconscious bias on the part of adults in authority.

"I think adults who work with young people, for better or worse, tend to quickly categorize kids," Betsy Purcell, who works for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Times. "They may not be categorizing them as LGBT, but as mainstream or out of the mainstream, a potential troublemaker or not a potential troublemaker."

There's been a lot of press recently about how frequently gay teens face bullying, and how devastating its effects can be. Many of the articles and op-eds have asked, "How can adults let this happen? What should the adults do?"

Here's an idea: Adults should stop picking on gay teens! And then we should all sit down and tell our kids this: "Being different is not a crime." We need to tell this to both the kids we think might be different and those we think are not different -- because they're the ones who need to hear it.


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