LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning) youth often avoid school due to the lack of feeling safe there. School avoidance is often a predictor of later dropping out, and limits opportunities for further education and a stable future. (Darwich et al, 2012)
These teens are often verbally or physically abused during their high school years, based on their orientation. Harassment can lead to dropping out of school, which reduces their chances of having a good career. (Kaufman, 2008)
School personnel should ensure that all students have equal access to education and mental health services. The climate of the school is particularly important, because questioning and undisclosed LGBTQ youth are not identified for services, but they do require support. They may not ask for help due to fear of being harassed or hurt. (Hansen, 2007)
LGBTQ youth feel often lonely and ostracized. The age of adolescence comes with an increased reliance on peer support and friendships. Unfortunately, this kind of support is often missing for LGBTQ youth. Social isolation and marginalization in the school environment are harmful for LGBTQ students. Negative school experiences, such as harassment, verbal or physical abuse, isolation or rejection not only damage social relations, but can have a negative effect on academic achievement as well.
According to one study, 53% of LGBTQ students experience a drop in grades, and 28% of them dropped out of school. On the contrary, 20% of them experienced an improvement in academic performance, and they had better grades after coming out. Other studies found that the majority of LGBTQ students excelled in school, only a minority of them reported problems concentrating. Sexual minority status in itself does not account for worse performance in school. However, when coupled with victimization, the grades start dropping. LGBTQ students, who experience victimization in their schools, are less likely to pursue postsecondary education. A positive school climate for LGBTQ youth is characterized by caring, sensitivity, equity, fairness, and positive student interpersonal interactions, as well as positive student-teacher relationships. Effective school practices include gay/straight alliances, psychosocial support for LGBTQ teens, and incorporating sexual minority issues into the curriculum. (Hansen, 2007)
Schools often have homophobic attitudes as well. Even without verbal or physical attacks or homophobic remarks, the silence surrounding LGBTQ adolescents suggests that something must be wrong with them. The school system itself teaches a curriculum of heterosexuality, and usually fails to discuss other orientations. Homophobia is not an isolated phenomenon. It is characteristic of the whole society. More and more Americans are NOT against the legalization of gay marriage. Yet most Americans would not allow gays to be teachers. (Quinn, 2002)
Parental reactions play an important part in mental health problems of LGBTQ youth. Parental rejection increases the chance of substance abuse or suicide, while parental support lowers the chance of suicide attempts and the occurrence of depression. Non-heterosexual youth report more experiences of abuse and victimization than their heterosexual peers. According to a study about sexual minority high school students, 86% of them reported verbal harassment within the past year, 44% experiencing physical harassment and 22% physical assault. School principals reported that more than 90% of LGBTQ students experienced harassment based upon gender expression or sexual orientation.
Gay-Straight Alliances in schools can contribute to a safer atmosphere for LGBTQ youth. Research results confirm the claim that LGBTQ students are less likely to hear homophobic comments in schools, where GSA is active. Schools with a GSA are places where LGBT youth feel they belong and are supported. GSA can help students to identify teachers and school staff who can offer support. GSA can offer something to heterosexual youth as well, namely education about LGBTQ issues. GSA can help LGBTQ adolescents by increasing their connectedness to their school environment. School psychologists have an important role in reducing risks for LGBTQ youth at school. They can help by establishing and publicizing an anti-bullying policy prohibiting bullying based on gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. They can train teachers to recognize and intervene when students engage in homophobic behaviors. School psychologists can help to establish GSAs or similar organizations and can collaborate in the modern conceptualization of diversity. (Heck et al, 2011)
Darwich, L., Hymel, S., Waterhouse, T. (2012): School Avoidance and Substance Use among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Youths: The Impact of Peer Victimization and Adult Support, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2012, Vol. 104, No. 2, 381-392
Hansen, A. L. (2007): School-Based Support for GLBT Students: A Review of Three Levels of Research, Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 44(8), 2007
Heck, N. C., Flentje, A., Cochran, B. N. (2011): Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth, School Psychology Quarterly, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 2, 161-174
Kaufman, M. (2008): Adolescent Sexual Orientation, Paediatric Child Health, 2008 13(7):619-623
Quinn, T. L. (2002): Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: An Administrative Approach to Diversity, Child Welfare, 2002 Nov-Dec, 81(6)
This article is part of a series of books called “Dr. T’s Living Well Series,” by Dr. Richard L. Travis.
The series contains books for Parents on ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Obesity, Anger, Drug and Alcohol Problems, Low Self-Esteem, and Trauma and Loss. There are also books on Addictions in different careers, Sexual Identity, and Gay Relationships.
Visit www.LivingWellSeries.com to see more information on these books.