Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people experience health problems in the same way that any young person might. However, because of homophobia and transphobia, there are specific health inequalities which face LGBT youth. Three areas are particularly affected:
LGBT young people are more likely to experience mental health problems; this includes depression, anxiety, self-harm, attempted suicide, phobias, and eating disorders.
There are higher levels of alcohol and drug problems amongst LGBT young people, as well as smoking.
LGBT young people have specific sexual health needs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity which are not dealt with by health promotion services or sex education. These issues extend beyond the actual sexual act to include relationship skills: how to find a partner and develop healthy relationships.
Why are LGBT young people vulnerable to health inequalities? Click here to see the power point presentation of the main findings of the "Ten Years On: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Young People in Calderdale." The main eight reasons are:
1. Self acceptance
The main task which faces LGBT young people is dealing with the internalised negative messages about homosexuality or transgenderism whilst at the same time accepting they are LGBT. The Coming Out to Yourself section deals with this.
Whilst some LGBT young people are brought up in LGBT families, the vast majority grow up in heterosexual families and most do not know any other LGBT people, let alone young LGBTs! So many think that they are totally alone.
It has been suggested that the isolation facing most LGBT young people can be broken down into three aspects: social, emotional and cognitive.
Social isolation: having no-one to talk to, feeling alone in most situations including school, family, friends. Social isolation is often connected with being in the closet and the need to hide and not 'be yourself.' Without access to peer support, young people often look for other ways of meeting LGBT people which might entail dangers such as accessing the adult gay-scene where there is an emphasis on alcohol, drugs and sex; accessing information on the internet (many websites place an emphasis on sex, pornography), on-line chat rooms where there are potential dangers of linking up with older people and relationships which are usually exploitative.
Emotional isolation: feeling separate emotionally and affectionately with family and social networks; being on guard so as not to be discovered, fearful that friends might misinterpret your friendship as something else; emotionally distant and isolated from family because of their homophobia or simply because family and friends do not understand what you are going through. For those who might be sexually involved with an adult, sex is usually the only bond with no spiritual or emotional worth other than being seen as sex objects. This seriously affects feelings of self-worth and confidence.
Cognitive isolation: lack of access to appropriate information and role models which feeds into young LGBT people believing in the negative stereotypes.
3. Parental rejection/abuse
About 10% of parents totally accept their children when they come out; about 10% reject them, whilst around 80% are shocked, often cry and are sometimes angry when they find out. Many blame themselves. A poor response from parents, who are supposed to love you whatever, can have a really negative effect on LGBT young people. Have a look at the Parents' section for more information.
4. Homophobic bullying
Homophobic bullying is rife in schools in Britain and most schools are not tackling it. The majority of LGBT young people will have either experienced homophobic bullying or witnessed it happening to other young people (or both!) There is strong evidence that bullying of any sort affects the mental wellbeing of young people and feeds into internalised self-hate. The Bullying section tells you a lot more about it.
5. Homophobic abuse
As well as experiencing homophobic bullying at school, some LGBT young people also experience homophobic abuse on the streets: on the buses to and from school, outside their home. It is usually the same young people who are bullying in school who also bully outside school. Click here for power point presentation of research GALYIC conducted in 2001 about homophobic hate crime in Calderdale.
About a quarter of young people who are homeless are LGBT. This is partly due to their parents throwing them out whilst others leave home early because they know their parents will not accept them if they come out. The Housing section tells you more about this.
7. Sexual vulnerability
Research from abroad has found that LGBT people are vulnerable to sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse. GALYIC research found that almost a third of members had been sexually abused and almost a quarter had been raped. You will find more information about this in the Sexual Health section.
8. Inaccessible services
With a handful of exceptions, most children and young peoples' services are not accessible to and do not meet the needs of LGBT young people. Click here for the power point presentation GALYIC members made at the launch of the "Ten Years On" report. The presentation includes recommendations for agencies.
All of these vulnerabilities can be reduced, although some can be tackled more easily than others.
If you are a young person the most important thing is to get support. By accepting yourself and accessing an LGBT youth group you will be able to challenge your isolation and access support and help for any of the other issues that you are facing.
If you are a worker, look at the above power point presentation on agencies and encourage your agency to follow the recommendations.
If you are the manager of an agency, why not consider training?
If you are a parent, recent US research has found that the risks facing LGBT young people can be significantly reduced if parents modify the way they respond to their children: being neutral or even only mildly rejecting (not to mention being supportive) can have a positive effect. For more information see the Parent's Section.