Teens who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more likely to feel unsafe, bullied, engage in risky behaviors and attempt suicide.
During each odd-numbered year, Massachusetts conducts an anonymous survey of high school students in the state focusing on risk behaviors threatening their health and safety, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
As part of the survey, students are asked to specify their sexual orientation. Looking at the collected information and comparing the experiences of heterosexual students and lesbian, gay and bisexual students provides insight into the amplified challenges faced by this minority population.
In the 2017 survey, 9.6% of students identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 1.7% identified as transgender.
The survey showed that lesbian, gay and bisexual students were bullied more in school and feared more for their personal safety. Around 21.4% of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students reported being electronically bullied and 25.7% reported being bullied on school grounds, compared to 12.2% and 12.8% of their heterosexual peers, respectively.
Within the lesbian, gay and bisexual population, 11.3% said they’d skipped school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from, compared with only 3.2% of the straight population.
The responses regarding mental health showed a wide divide among experiences: 56% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported feeling sad or hopeless, nearly double their heterosexual peers at 23.7%.
Around 35.6% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students said they’d seriously considered attempting suicide and 12.8% had attempted suicide, compared to 9.4% and 3.5% of their peers.
The lesbian, gay and bisexual students were more likely to have consumed alcohol (70.3%) and to have tried marijuana (51.3%), heroin (3.6%), methamphetamines (3%) and ecstasy (6%).
They were also more sexually active, with 44.9% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students saying they’d had sex, compared to 35.1% of heterosexual students.
Experiencing sexual violence was also more prevalent: 15.9% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students said they’d been physically forced to have sex, compared to 5.6% of their peers. 22.7% had experienced sexual violence by anyone and 16.7% had experienced sexual dating violence, compared to 8.5% and 3.7% of their heterosexual counterparts.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.