Gay, lesbian and transgender high school students are more likely than their straight peers to become victims of bullying and sexual assault, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control.
The numbers aren't encouraging, experts say. While researchers already knew LGBT youth were at higher risk for depression and suicide, the study found an alarming 40 percent of students polled said they'd "seriously" contemplated taking their own lives, while 60 percent meet the definition for clinical depression, skipping out on school or their usual activities because they feel sad or hopeless.
Feeding the depression is the increased likelihood of being victimized by their peers. Gay, lesbian and transgender high school students are more than three times as likely as straight students to report that they've been raped, and more than twice as likely to become victims of sexual violence, the CDC said.
At the same time, one in three high school students who participated in the study said they've been bullied at school, while 28 percent said they've been bullied online. By contrast, the CDC said, nine percent of straight students are victims of school bullying, while 14 percent are victims of online bullying.
"These tragic disparities call for accelerated action by public health and education agencies, communities, and families to protect the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth," said the CDC's Dr. Jonathan Mermin.
The wide-ranging study included survey results from more than 15,000 high school kids across the U.S., supplemented by data from 25 state surveys and data from 19 surveys taken by students in large urban school districts. The students were considered sexual minorities if they identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; if they reported having sex with only members of the same sex; or if they reported having sexual contact with members of both genders, according to the CDC.
Why are LGBT students more at-risk than their straight peers? The answer is complicated and multi-faceted, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, the chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, told The New York Times.
“The intensity of homophobic attitudes and acceptance of gay-related victimization, as well as the ongoing silence around adolescent sexuality, marginalizes a whole group of young people," Miller said.
Addressing the problem begins at home, Miller told the Times, with the way parents communicate with their children.
“We have to start conversations early with young people about healthy sexuality, attraction, relationships, intimacy and how to explore those feelings in as safe and respectful a way as possible,” she said.
Getting to those children early and intervening is crucial to preventing developmental and psychological problems that could continue to manifest as the children grow up, the CDC's Dr. Deb Houry told U.S. News & World Report. Failure to reach out to those kids could have fatal consequences.
"Tragically," Houry said, "when young people face multiple types of violence or other adverse events in childhood, especially in the absence of support from family, peers and communities, the consequences can be life-threatening."