Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the striking health disparities faced by LGBTQ youth. The data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, conducted during 2001–2009 in seven states and six large urban school districts, shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are at greater risk than their heterosexual peers for a host of unhealthy behaviors.
Among the findings from the survey, LGBTQ youth were more likely than heterosexual youth to:
These devastating facts reveal the pressing need to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ youth.
We need safe schools where students are protected from bullying and violence. Whether through the implementation of zero-tolerance policies or paying closer attention to the behaviors and actions that might ensue bullying and violence in our schools, we must do a better job of guaranteeing that safety for every youth is a priority in our schools and communities.
We need to ensure that quality health services and information are available to all young people. We can no longer dismiss the need to educate our youth on topics such as drug and alcohol use and sexual intercourse. Teaching our youth about potential health risk factors associated with unhealthy behaviors has a tremendous impact. The simple act of teaching our youth about the health risk factors can encourage them to consider healthy choices as part of their lifestyle. When we educate, we empower. And as the saying goes, knowledge is power.
Lastly, we need to fight the stigma and discrimination that puts LGBTQ youth at risk for unhealthy behaviors and negative consequences.
How communities, schools, and families choose to respond to the needs of this youth population is at the center of this public health conversation. In order for our youth to thrive, they need the support and care of everyone from health care professionals to teachers and parents to mentors. As the data show—right now, we are failing. We can do better.
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