Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens are far more likely to experience violence and bullying, and attempt suicide, than their heterosexual peers, according to new national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data show just how deeply stigma and discrimination affect LGBTQ youth, how urgently they need their communities’ support and affirmation, and how far we have to go in protecting them.

For the first time ever, the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) asked young people about their sexual orientation, allowing researchers to assess how being LGB affects teens’ risk of problems including depression, drug use and violence. The results are sobering:

  • Thirty-four percent of LGB teens reported having been bullied in school, and 18 percent said they had been been forced to have sex;
  • Twenty-three percent reported experiencing sexual violence, and 18 percent were subjected to physical violence from someone they were dating;
  • And more than 30 percent reported having attempted suicide in the past year alone.  

All of these problems were much less common among heterosexual teens participating in the survey.

Mary Beth Maxwell, the HRC Foundation’s Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Trainings called the findings a “call to action.”

Maxwell continued, “from the messages youth receive at their kitchen table, in their classroom, and on prime-time T.V., we all must do more to put an end to anti-LGBTQ stigma. Policymakers, for one, can start with the passage and implementation of local, state, and federal anti-bullying policies and nondiscrimination protections.”

The YRBS is considered especially accurate because it randomly surveys teens—15,713 in 2015—in high schools across the country. Asking about sexual orientation gives advocates and researchers the most accurate picture yet of the challenges facing LGB youth, as well as information necessary to crafting solutions to combat bullying, discrimination and violence.

Researchers believe that anti-LGBTQ stigma is a major cause of problems including depression, violence and substance abuse among LGBTQ young people. They also know that studies show support from peers, family and other important adults helps enormously. HRC’s Welcoming Schools program works to reduce stigma and bullying starting in elementary school. Through the All Children – All Families project, HRC trains child welfare workers to support LGBTQ youth.  Last month, HRC partnered with the American Counseling Association to release the first of five online learning modules for counselors who work with LGBTQ young people. HRC’s annual Time to Thrive conference gives youth-serving professionals the tools they need to promote LGBTQ youth well-being.

While this report gives insight into the plight of LGB youth, it is not a complete picture: a number of states eliminated sexual orientation questions from their surveys.

Additionally, the YRBS still does not identify teens who are transgender or gender-expansive—even though previous research suggests that transgender teens are more likely to experience violence and other serious problems. The CDC is expected to add these questions in the future.

Despite these gaps, the data make one point clearer than ever: that stigma and lack of social support remain at crisis levels for too many LGBTQ youth. Each of us—parents, professionals, peers and community members—must support and affirm the LGBTQ young people in our lives, whether as mentors, advocates, or simply by lending an ear.

To learn more about HRC supports LGBTQ young people at school, at home and in their communities, visit http://www.hrc.org/explore/topic/children-youth.

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