HRC, UCONN Survey Finds Anti-LGBTQ Bias Overwhelmingly Affects Health and Well-being of LGBTQ Teens

by Sarah McBride

Findings underscore urgency of supporting LGBTQ youth -- 95 percent of whom struggle to sleep at night -- amidst ongoing political attacks on LGBTQ equality.

HRC Foundation and the University of Connecticut released the largest-of-its-kind survey ever of more than 12,000 LGBTQ teenagers across the nation, revealing in distressing detail the persistent challenges so many of them face going about their daily lives at home, at school and in their communities.

The more than 12,000 respondents, ranging in age from 13 to 17, and from all 50 states and Washington D.C., participated in the online 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey. It found that these teenagers are not only experiencing heartbreaking levels of stress, anxiety and rejection, but also overwhelmingly feel unsafe in their own school classrooms. LGBTQ young people who participated in the survey also made crystal clear that supportive families and inclusive schools are key to their success and well-being.

HRC and researchers at the University of Connecticut found that:

  • Seventy-seven percent of LGBTQ teenagers surveyed report feeling depressed or down over the past week;
  • Ninety-five percent of LGBTQ youth report trouble sleeping at night;
  • LGBTQ youth of color and transgender teenagers experience unique challenges and elevated stress -- only 11 percent of youth of color surveyed believe their racial or ethnic group is regarded positively in the U.S., and over 50 percent of trans and gender expansive youth said they can never use school restrooms that align with their gender identity;
  • More than 70 percent report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;
  • Only 26 percent say they always feel safe in their school classrooms -- and just five percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people;
  • Sixty-seven percent report that they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people

The results highlight the challenges facing LGBTQ youth, particularly transgender young people and people of color, who have experienced ongoing efforts by the Trump-Pence administration to undermine their rights -- from rescinding lifesaving guidance promoting equitable treatment of transgender students and refusing to investigate complaints filed by transgender students who face discrimination in school facilities, to racist immigration policies and giving shameful passes to hate groups and white supremacists.

“These harrowing statistics show the devastating toll rejection by family and peers, bullying and harassment, and apathy on the part of too many adults is having on America’s young people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “When this administration rescinds guidance protecting transgender students, or when lawmakers attempt to grant a license to discriminate to schools, colleges, and universities, it further erodes the fragile landscape for young people across the nation. Now more than ever, it is crucial for each of us to do all we can to protect LGBTQ youth and ensure they feel valued, equal, and loved.”

Said University of Connecticut Assistant Professor Dr. Ryan Watson: “Our strong research partnership with HRC reflects a shared sense of urgency to address the significant health and well-being disparities facing LGBTQ teens. We look forward to further sharing the results of this national study, and we hope our research findings will help inform policy and practice change to improve the lives of these young people. This collaboration has potential to shape prevention, intervention and treatment related to school and family experiences; weight-related health; and victimization of LGBTQ youth."

The research also points to some positive trends illuminating the resilience of LGBTQ young people -- even in the face of an often difficult reality:

  • 91 percent of youth report feeling pride in being an LGBTQ person, and 93 percent are proud to be a part of the community.
  • Three out of five LGBTQ students have access to a LGBTQ student club -- which has been shown to have a positive impact on the perceptions LGBTQ youth have of their school experiences and can provide support to those who may face hostile environments at home or in their communities.

The voices and experiences of these teenagers are powerfully reflected in the new survey:

“I overhear anti-LGBTQ slurs on the bus every single school day.”

“[School] counselors never say that you can come to them about LGBTQ subjects.”

“I just don't go to the bathroom at school. I've had friends who were harassed about it, and don't feel comfortable using them.”

“I live in the Bible Belt. Also I'm afraid that any information or questions that I have aren't confidential between me and my councilor. I'm afraid he'll call my parents or try to convince me that my sexuality is wrong.”

“I know my school is generally accepting. The GSA gave out safe space stickers to all teachers and most of them put them up, so I know that I won't be judged for talking about my identity.”

This survey comes five years after HRC’s groundbreaking 2012 study of LGBTQ youth -- one of the first initiatives launched by the organization under Griffin’s leadership. They comprise the most reliable data collected about the experiences of LGBTQ young people in America.

The U.S. lacks reliable data about LGBTQ people, especially about the experiences of LGBTQ youth. In light of this, and in the face of consistent attacks on LGBTQ youth, HRC is committed to ensuring this data is in the hands of teachers, counselors, coaches, doctors and other youth-serving professionals across the country. These findings will inform a variety of HRC Foundation programs for youth and youth-serving professionals, including the Welcoming Schools program, the All Children-All Families program and the Time to THRIVE conference.

An event discussing the results of the survey with HRC President Chad Griffin, the Secretary-Treasurer of the National Education Association, and activists will be livestreamed on HRC’s Facebook page today at 10 a.m. ET.

The full results of the survey can be found here.