Expert Commentary

Educational and psychological outcomes between LGBTQ and straight students in middle and high school

2011 study on gay teens and greater risk of emotional problems and negative educational outcomes.

In recent years, there have been a number of highly publicized incidents involving teens who self-identified as gay and thereby became the target of harsh bullying — or worse — from their straight peers. Studies suggest the problem is pervasive: 9 of 10 U.S. students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender reported having experienced some form of harassment during the past year, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe because of these dynamics, according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey. Researchers continue to investigate the variety of challenges faced by students who assert a non-traditional sexual identity.

A 2011 study from the University of Illinois published in Educational Researcher, “Inequities in Educational and Psychological Outcomes Between LGBTQ and Straight Students in Middle and High School,” analyzed survey data taken from more than 13,000 students spanning 30 middle and high schools in Wisconsin to look at educational outcomes and psychological well-being of non-straight students. The area in which the schools were surveyed represents, the study’s authors state, “geographically diverse areas ranging from small working farms to a large city.”

The study’s findings include:

  • Within the sample, approximately 5% of the students self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ).
  • The most at risk of suicide were self-identified bisexual students; while “less than half of 1% of straight-identified students reported thinking seriously about killing themselves ‘almost all of the time,’ 5.6% of bisexual-identified students reported doing so.”
  • “LGBTQ-identified students were more likely than straight-identified students to report attempting suicide once in the year prior to survey completion.” Statistically, this meant that 6.2% of LGBTQ students reported a suicide attempt compared to 1.8% of straight students.
  • LGBTQ students were much more likely to report experiencing online bullying: “Compared with the 80.8% of straight-identified students who report no cyber victimization, only 66.0% of all LGBTQ-identified students do.” More generally, LGBTQ students are “disproportionately the victims of bullying, which can further impede learning” and may explain differences in educational and psychological outcomes.
  • LGBT students were more likely to skip classes. The prevalence of unexcused absences for straight students increases from about 7% in middle school to about 14% skipping in high school. However, “about 22% of LGBTQ students were already skipping school in middle school, staying around that level in high school.”

The researchers emphasize that they “did not attempt to explore causal mechanisms” and that further research would be needed to explore the root problems.

Tags: children, gender, crime, gay issues, bullying, civil rights