Teen girls who are attracted to other girls are much more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than straight girls, a new study suggests.
The issue: Scholars and education leaders are giving greater scrutiny to the practice of suspending and expelling students from school, partly because it’s associated with lower test scores, repeating a grade and other negative outcomes. In recent years, much of the new research on school discipline examines which types of students are most likely to face suspension or expulsion. Those studies tend to focus primarily on student race and ethnicity. A new study aims to fill a gap in knowledge about the disciplinary experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth.
A study worth reading: “Sexual Orientation and School Discipline: New Evidence From a Population-Based Sample,” published in the Educational Researcher, January 2018.
Study summary: Joel Mittleman of Princeton University analyzed a sample of 3,394 teenagers who had been participating since birth in a population-based study known as the Fragile Families and Childhood Wellbeing Study. As part of that study, the teens were asked about their sexual orientation. Parents or other primary caregivers were asked about their children’s behavior, including whether they had ever been suspended or expelled.
Mittleman used the teens’ sex at birth to determine whether they reported a same-sex attraction. He notes that the sample does not represent the student population nationally but helps provide important insights.
The big takeaways:
- About 10 percent of teenagers in the sample reported same-sex attraction, with 8 percent saying they were attracted to both sexes and 2 percent reporting only being attracted to members of the same sex.
- Thirty-four percent of all teens who reported a same-sex attraction had been suspended or expelled from school, compared to 28 percent of teens who said they were only attracted to the opposite sex.
- Girls who said they were attracted to girls had rates of discipline that were 13 percentage points higher than girls who said they were only attracted to boys. Thirty-four percent of girls who said they were attracted to the same sex reported being disciplined.
- There was no observable difference in discipline rates among boys, regardless of attraction type. However, the author stresses that the limited numbers of sexual minority boys in the data “necessitate a cautious interpretation of their outcomes.”
- Girls reporting same-sex attraction were more likely than straight girls to have been diagnosed with a learning disability such as ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
- A 2015 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, “Messy, Butch, and Queer: LGBTQ Youth and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” looks at how students’ actual or perceived sexual or gender identity affects their disciplinary experiences.
- A 2016 study in Social Problems, “The Punishment Gap: School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement,” found that black and Latino students were more likely to be suspended than children from other racial or ethnic groups. The study also found that suspended students tended to earn lower scores in reading and math.
- A 2017 study in Demography, “Non-Heterosexuality, Relationships, and Young Women’s Contraceptive Behavior,” suggests young women who are not heterosexual are at a greater risk of accidental pregnancy, partly because they are less likely than straight women to use contraceptives.