By George L. Askew, MD, FAAP, Chief Medical Officer and Hima Patel, Health Policy Intern
Imagine walking down your high school hallway, knowing that every person you passed by was judging you, marking you as someone who does not belong. Imagine that you spent each day living for the moment when you could go far away from everyone who mocked you, bullied you, or treated you differently, simply because of your sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation. This is the life for thousands of youth who struggle to maintain a mentally and physically healthy life in the face of bullying and adversity while struggling with their self-identity.
A 2011 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network of 8,584 students (ages 13 to 20) found that:
These numbers are hard to ignore. No one should feel unsafe, unwelcome, and endure harassment and assault anywhere, especially in a school environment. This same study found increased absenteeism, lowered educational aspirations and academic achievements, and poorer psychological well-being in LGBT youth as a result of the bullying they faced.
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), in a Report to Congress on the Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, cited studies that suggest 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. The same report stated that about one quarter of all homeless youth have run away from homes where they faced abuse and neglect. Though ACF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) can help these homeless youth through many initiatives and centers, no child should have to face a lifetime of familial and social instability because of their sexual orientation.
Parents, schools, and communities can play an important role in creating environments where all youth can feel physically and emotionally safe. The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services have re-launched a website, StopBullying.gov. The website shows the types of bullying faced by all youth. It offers recommendations for building a safe environment for youth, whether they are heterosexual or LGBT. Included are the following: