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Gay Mass. Teens More Likely to Be Homeless

Gay Mass. Teens More Likely to Be Homeless


One in four lesbian or gay teens and 15 percent of bisexual teens are homeless in Massachusetts compared to just 3 percent of exclusively heterosexual teens, a new study from Children’s Hospital Boston has found.

The study, published online July 21 on the American Journal of Public Health website, surveyed data provided by more than 6,300 public high school students. It is the first study of its kind to use population-based data to assess the risk of homelessness among teens of different sexual orientations.

The study also found that of those homeless youth questioned it was teens that identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual that were consistently more likely to be on their own, without a parent or guardian.

“Prior studies in homeless street youth have found that sexual minorities occur in much higher numbers than we’d expect based on their numbers in the community in general,” Heather Corliss, PhD, MPH, of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s, is quoted as saying. “This study looked at the magnitude of the difference for the first time.”

For the purposes of the study, the data used defined homelessness as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, a definition also found in federal legislation such as the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act.

Researchers used data from the 2005 and 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) which allows for a representative sample of students in grades 9 through 12.

Among the researcher findings were the following:

  • Overall, less than 5 percent of students identified as GLB, yet they made up 19 percent of those identifying as homeless.
  • Homelessness among heterosexual students came in at 3.2 percent. This rate increased to 15 percent among bisexual students, and 25 percent among lesbian/gay students.
  • Homelessness among those unsure of their sexual orientation was also disproportionately high at 20 percent.
  • Fifteen percent of male teens identifying as gay were unaccompanied by parents/guardians, while just 8 percent were homeless but living with a parent.
  • Among girls identifying as lesbian, 22.5 percent were homeless without parental or guardian supervision. Similar trends were found for bisexuals and those unsure of their sexual orientation.

Researchers hope their findings will highlight the vulnerability of GLB and questioning youth where homelessness is concerned, and in particular it is hoped that school administrators and others working with adolescents will take on board these findings. The study also stresses the associated risks with increased prevalence of homelessness such as physical and sexual mistreatment, mental health deterioration, substance abuse and a greater likelihood of high-risk sexual behaviors.

“The high risk of homelessness among sexual minority teens is a serious problem requiring immediate attention,” says Corliss. “These teens face enormous risks and all types of obstacles to succeeding in school and are in need of a great deal of assistance.”

The study’s chief limitation, as recognized by researchers, is that it only assessed figures from Massachusetts, a state that has been a leader on gay rights and therefore would be more likely to have a more tolerant population. As such, researchers caution that this study will likely underestimate the national problem of homeless sexual minority youth.

Also not assessed in the study is the problem of trans youth homelessness. Existing studies have found that trans adults across the nation are at an even greater risk of homelessness than sexual orientation minorities, a trend that has been demonstrated among trans-identifying teenagers as well.

You can find links to the full methodology and further exploration of the import and limitations of this study here.

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to brainchildvn.

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10:02PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

Sometime I wish the hatred against LGBT especially from conservative religious folk would just stop. How can you not love you child? No matter who they are? It's saddening and sickening, and I pray and watch for us to gather together as community to give support to these kids - and adults! The bigotry will end. We will wake up.

2:20PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

The parents of these kids are a shameful bunch.

10:08AM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

With so much focus on anti-GLBT bullying in schools, these sad statistics make me wonder where else in society we are failing these youth.

7:22AM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

I remember about ten years ago a study came out that showed that homosexual teens were more likely to be homeless than their straight peers, and the worst problem was that most of the homeless youth shelters out there were run by churches, which often had an anti-gay prejudice.

Four years ago I was trying to adopt a girl who was in Pennsylvania's institutional foster care system, so I spent A LOT of time in various group homes, and got to meet many of the residents. It blew me away that almost 100% of the girls I met self-identified as bi or lesbian. It's very easy to institutionalize a child in PA, and even though homosexuality, per se, isn't grounds on which you can do it, I think it was the homosexuality that threw most of these parents over the end and made them decide to institutionalize their child for something as minor as smoking pot or shoplifting. It is beyond sad,beyond infuriating, and all I can think to do about it is talk about it, A LOT, and hope it eventually gets the attention it deserves.

I really think the effects of all the anti-gay bullying at schools get diluted for the kid who has no where to go after 3:30.

5:30AM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

Nobody actually chooses their sexual orientation. Cupid's arrow strikes where it will. The only choice is whether to come out of the closet or try to practice celibacy and try to pass well enough for either heterosexual or asexual to avoid alienating parents and society. And that is not easy. It is living a lie and trying to pass for something one is not.

2:58PM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

A very sad commentary on a state always so liberal in its politics.I guess this is an issue that never gravitated to the home- sad, and pathetic.

12:42PM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

This reveals a serious lack of love and understanding by the parents and families of these young people.

12:34PM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

Shocking figures! Parents need education.

11:50AM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

Sorry, my sentence got cut off, I meant to say "provide more focused assistance."

11:42AM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

These statistics are very discouraging and worrisome. Hopefully the findings can be usedt ocombat this issue and provide more focused . Thanks Steve.

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