Lesbian, gay and bisexual students in California’s middle and high schools are much more likely than their straight peers to feel depressed, abuse substances and skip school, according to a new report by Kidsdata.*
The report examines data from two state-sponsored surveys, one looking at student wellbeing in grades 7,9 and 11 and non-traditional students, and another that gauges the opinions of staff at elementary through high schools on student behavior, policies and programs, and overall school climate.**
In the student survey, 60 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth reported feeling consistently sad for two weeks or more, and that the sadness prevented them from doing their usual activities. These depressive symptoms were only half as prevalent among straight students.
Rates of drug and alcohol abuse among LGB youth were also double that of their straight peers, and half reported cutting classes or skipping school during the past year, compared to 35 percent of non-LGB youth. Skipping school is tied to poor emotional health and at-risk behavior, and hurts children’s health and educational attainment, the report stated.
In the staff survey, less than a third of school employees thought their campuses provided enough counseling and support services for students.
“Unfortunately this data is not surprising,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesman for Equality California, a statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization.
“California is lucky to have the strongest statewide LGBT civil rights protections in the country but we know that that doesn’t necessarily translate to full, lived equality and that too many members of the LGBTQ community in California have unfortunately been left behind,” he said. “We particularly see this with some of the most vulnerable groups, which includes LGBT youth.”
If young people don’t receive the support they need, it can lead to greater problems when they become adults, Garrett-Pate said. Joblessness, homelessness, substance use and many other measures of health and wellbeing tend to be higher than average in the LGBTQ community, especially among people who are also marginalized because of race or immigration status, he said.
“All these sorts of things are higher for LGBTQ people in part because we face discrimination and lack of acceptance as a lifelong issue,” he said. “So if you are able to help to solve those problems for youth, you can set them up for a better, more equal life.”
Schools can be a great resource for LGBTQ youth who are facing rejection at home or in their communities, Garrett-Pate said. Equality California is pushing for legislation that would provide state funding for teacher training and tools to support these students.
Amanda Wallner, director of the California LGBT Health and Human Services Network, said the state is taking important steps to address disparities faced by LGBTQ youth. These include implementation of laws ensuring people with different sexual orientations are included in school curriculums and health classes. Several individual school districts have also taken action to support LGBTQ students, she said.
But more needs to be done, Wallner said. Lack of funding is often a barrier for schools seeking to implement programs that help LGBTQ students, she said. Her organization wants part of the state’s expected revenue from Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana, to be targeted specifically at addressing health disparities experienced by this population.
“There are a number of schools that are stepping up and trying to do the right,” Wallner said. “But there’s absolutely still room to do more work.”
*Kidsdata is a project of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, which is a funder of California Health Report.
**This story has been corrected. An earlier version stated that students who participated in the survey were in grades 7 to 11.