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Lesbian/Gay/Bi Teens Punished More

Study Shows LGB Teens, Particularly Girls, Punished More for Same Behavior as Straight Teens


"Probably what is happening in this study is they pick up young people who are experienced as different from others, and that may be because of their gender nonconforming behaviors," Ryan tells WebMD. "One way a person responds to that is by acting out. This may bring that child to the attention of authorities."

Harassment by schoolmates and being singled out for punishment by school authorities can have powerful harmful effects on LGB youths' future health, Coker notes. But in a series of new studies, Ryan finds that the biggest health issues for LGB teens lie inside their families.

Lesbian/Gay/Bi Health and Family Acceptance

For nearly a decade, Ryan's Family Acceptance Project has been conducting extensive interviews with the entire families of ethnically diverse LGB youth and their families. They identified more than 100 ways in which families express acceptance or rejection of an LGB family member.

Regardless of how it is expressed, family acceptance and rejection each have powerful effects on an LGB youth's health.

"In our [2009] paper we looked at specific rejecting behaviors and got dramatic findings," Ryan says. "With high family rejection the teens were more than eight times more likely to try suicide, six times more likely to be depressed, and more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs or to put themselves at risk of HIV infection."

But rejection isn't a family's only reaction to an LGB teen. In a new study, Ryan and colleagues find that family acceptance during the teen years protects LGB youth against suicide, depression, and substance abuse and gives youths' significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support, and general health.

Perhaps the best news is that supportive families don't always start out that way. Even families initially hostile to homosexuality due to religious beliefs or prejudice can become supportive of their LGB loved ones.

"The moral is that families can grow and change and can support LGB youth and can integrate this with their faith," Ryan says. "We work with families of all traditions. Underneath all these attitudes toward nonconforming sexual identity, they love their children and want them to have a good life. Our aim is not to make them do anything against their beliefs, but to do things for their family to protect their child's health."

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