It doesn’t matter if teens are gay, bi, or straight when it comes to committing “bad behavior” — running away, spray painting a storefront, or stealing candy all happen with the same frequency. But when it comes to discipline for misdeeds, one thing is clear: queer teens are handed more severe punishments than their straight counterparts.
Teens who had same-sex attractions or relationships, were “30 to 50 percent more likely to be stopped by the police, 40 percent more likely to be convicted of a crime as adults, and more likely to be expelled from school,” according to Yale University researchers Kathryn Himmelstein and Dr. Hannah Brückner, who looked at data from more than 15,000 teens in grades 7-12 back during the 1994-95 school year. They found teens who self-identify as gay or lesbian were more likely to end up in juvenile detention centers and convicted of crimes.
Himmelstein and Bruckner, now with the NYC Department of Education, re-interviewed the teens seven years later to determine if anything has changed, reports Reuters.
Among the teens studied, “three-quarters admitted to minor transgressions, such as running away, graffiti or shoplifting. Thirty percent said they’d committed more serious acts, such as selling drugs or stealing. More than 40 percent admitted to violent behaviour, such as fighting or hurting someone.”
Reporting in the journal Pediatrics, the authors found that nearly 10 per cent of participants who said they’d been attracted to someone of the same sex had been expelled from school, versus 7 per cent of those with only heterosexual feelings. Twenty-six percent of participants who’d had a same-sex relationship said they’d been stopped by the police, but only 21 per cent of those with no history of same-sex relationships said the same.
When the researchers used statistical tools to equalize the rates of bad behaviour among heterosexual and non-heterosexual teens, they found that those with homosexual feelings or relationships were significantly more likely to be punished for their behaviour. Why non-heterosexual young people are being singled out, however, is unclear, Himmelstein noted. “We just showed these disparities exist.”
“I wish I could say that their results are surprising but unfortunately they are not,” Dr. Karine Igartua, co-founder and co-medical director of the McGill University Sexual Identity Centre, told Reuters Health. Anti-homosexual bias can occur anywhere, she noted, such as in the police officer who lets go a teenaged boy and girl for making out in a park, but charges two teenaged boys with public indecency. But she agreed that often, authority figures aren’t being consciously biased.
This data, combined with the new study that reveals accepting parents of LGBT kids are more likely to raise healthy LGBT kids, really goes a long way in showing that discrimination and institutional phobia toward queer youth is not drummed up or imagined. It is real. It hurts these young people. And it continues to be tolerated as the norm.