The study, led by Berlan and Bryn Austin, ScD, also of Children's, analyzed data from more than 7,500 adolescents aged 14 to 22 participating in the Growing Up Today Study, a large national study of American youth. Overall, about 90 percent of participants described themselves as heterosexual, 8 percent as mostly heterosexual, 1 percent as bisexual and 1 percent as lesbian or gay. Nearly half of the lesbian and gay youth in the study had been bullied in the past year.
Berlan and Austin hope to conduct a more detailed follow-up study to better understand how bullying affects health outcomes. 'We know that, in general, sexual minorities are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs and have eating disorders and depression,' says Austin. 'We suspect that social isolation, harassment, bullying and sometimes frank violence against these adolescents may be an explanation.'
Bullying and harassment of children who behave or appear outside expected gender norms begins in elementary school. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a national advocacy group, students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered are five times more likely to skip school than the general population, and do worse academically. Ten states and the District of Columbia now have a safe schools initiative to prevent harassment based on sexual orientation, and a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 284) proposes amending the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying and harassment prevention programs.