A new study suggests that gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students are more likely than their heterosexual peers to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and carrying guns.
The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which surveyed 156,000 high school students and was released on Monday, is the largest of its kind by the federal government.
“This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people,” said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Heath.
Among the results, published Monday in the CDC’s issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, are these statistics:
- About 8 percent to 19 percent of heterosexual students smoke cigarettes, compared to 20 percent to 48 percent of gay and lesbian students.
- About 4 percent to 10 percent of heterosexual students say they’ve attempted suicide in the previous year, compared to 15 to 34 percent of gay and lesbian teens.
- About 3 percent to 6 percent of heterosexual students said they vomited or used laxatives to lose weight, compared to 13 percent to 20 percent for gay and lesbian students, and 12 percent to 17.5 percent for bisexual students.
The results, based on anonymous surveys, quantify what advocates say they have long known anecdotally.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual youths are often driven to risky behavior because they are rejected by their families and other support groups, said Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis counseling and suicide prevention programs for youths.
“We’ve known this for years but the research hasn’t been there to back it up,” she said.
Unlike straight teens — gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens often face stigma and rejection, according to the researchers.
“Many risk behaviors are related to how people feel about themselves and the environment they’re in,” said survey author Dr. Laura Kann, of the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health.
The core results came from surveys completed in five states — Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont — and four city school systems in Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco.