“It Gets Better?” I Sure Hope So, Because Right Now It’s Pretty Bad

Research came out this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating that GLBTQ young people are shockingly underserved, and facing health risks on every front.

Across the nine sites that assessed sexual identity, the prevalence among gay or lesbian students was higher than the prevalence among heterosexual students for a median of 63.8% of all the risk behaviors measured, and the prevalence among bisexual students was higher than the prevalence among heterosexual students for a median of 76.0% of all the risk behaviors measured. 

Breaking it down to just a few of the numbers, that means gay and lesbian youth are more likely to:

  • Have been injured in a physical fight (5 times more likely)
  • Have experienced dating violence (3 times more likely)
  • Have been raped (3 times more likely)
  • Have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school (3 times more likely)
  • Have missed school because they feared for their safety (4 times more likely)
  • Have considered suicide (3 times more likely)
  • Have attempted suicide (4 times more likely)
  • Have used heavy drugs (5-7 times more likely)
  • Have injected drugs (10 times more likely)
  • Had sex before age 13 (4 times more likely)
  • Have had sex without a condom (just under twice as likely)

Our youth are also less likely to eat their vegetables and more likely to smoke.  More likely to take diet pills.  Less likely to wear their seatbelts. 

In essence, the report says: we are treating an entire generation of GLBTQ young people as if they don’t matter. Sex education programs ignore these youth, or at best, at worst, vilify them.  They’re told their very existence is so vile that teachers can’t talk about them. Presidential candidates build support by saying our culture must be protected from them. Meanwhile, only thirteen states even asked about sexual identity or sexual contact on the Youth Risk Behavior survey. The others consider the topic too challenging, too….risky.

These youth are assaulted at school and molested at home. They fear school. They have unprotected sex and inject drugs.  They are homeless.  They try to kill themselves (they succeed).

You know the saying: Measure a society by how it treats its most vulnerable? Our society is failing.

It’s more than marriage equality, ending bullying, ending hate speech. Those are all worthy goals.  Those are basic rights denied to GLBTQ people.  But what this report makes clear is that on a fundamental level our GLBTQ youth are being devalued.  We do not care enough to protect them from violence, suffering, and danger.  And knowing they are devalued, they devalue themselves and their health and lives. 

Undoubtedly conservatives will take this information and use it to point out to GLBTQ youth (again) that they’re the problem – they’re flawed, they need fixing.  But you know and I know that it’s not true.  Adults in power, and a hateful culture, are the ones at fault here, and also the only ones who can fix it. 

Will we find the will, to change our schools, communities, homes, churches, leaders?

Or will we continue to allow malevolent neglect to rule these young people’s lives?

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  • journeywork

    I find it demoralizing that right after the quote about bisexual youth having the HIGHEST prevalence of health risks overall, you launch into a stream of stats about “gay and lesbian” youth. [Note: The report only looked at sexual orientation, not gender identity.] I know that the data is sorted by comparing GL/hetero and B/hetero, but why not highlight bi youth as well? This is particularly unconscionable when bi youth score highest on almost all of the suicide-related statistics. 

    The ongoing invisibility of bisexual/pansexual/fluid people has serious consequences, especially in health outcomes. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend reading the “Bisexual Invisibility” report recently approved by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.


  • terrapin


    The author of the article is summarizing a CDC report, not cherry picking stats from here and there. It seems to me that your beef is with the CDC, not her. I understand that bisexual youth need help and that you feel quite passionately about it, but your comment has an us-versus-them tone to it. We already have far too much of this in the general political arena. Surely those who care about the GLBTQ community can work together, regardless of which part of the acronym applies to what they care about most. Why not try an approach that encourages much-needed teamwork? Something like: “I’m glad that the dismal stats on gays and lesbians are now being reported, but would like to see a lot more emphasis on the desperate status of the bisexual youths.”

    I wish to make it clear that I am not arguing with the substance of your comment, but am encouraging us to work in the spirit of togetherness rather than merely criticize.