Science has now found that young people who are non-heterosexual are more commonly punished than other young people – for the same infractions – both at school and in the legal system. Lead author Kathryn Himmelstein was an undergraduate at Yale when she undertook this eye-opening research project, and discovered that there has been widespread disproportionate treatment of young people who identify as non-heterosexual. At a time when all Americans are thinking hard about the challenges these young people face, we were proud to work with Ms. Himmelstein - providing her with media training, and helping to spread the word about her research. She told the New York Times:
“Our data show that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are being excessively punished, but the data don’t say why. We weren’t able to figure out the circumstances of the punishment, but that’s something that should be investigated more in light of recent events involving bullying and harassment of gay teens by peers.’’According to Ms. Himmelstein, quoted here in the Washington post, "The most striking difference was for lesbian and bisexual girls, and they were two to three times as likely as girls with similar behavior to be punished." The Post also spoke to 18 year-old Clara McCreery, co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. She said:
"I find it tragic. I wonder if some people misinterpret the way some gay girls choose to dress as a sign of aggression."CBS asks whether lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are punished more because they are more prone to misbehavior.
Not likely, says Himmelstein, who is now a public school teacher in New York CIty. The study showed that disparities in punishment could not be explained by differences in the rates of misbehavior. In fact, it showed that LGB teens are less likely than their peers to engage in violent behavior.With all the talk these last few months about bullying of gay youth, it’s crucial to note that science now shows these young people are being let down by more than just their peers. Whether intentionally or not - the adults who are charged with their well-being are treating these youth more harshly than their straight counterparts. We applaud Ms. Himmelstein for undertaking this research, and we hope it makes more Americans aware of the fact that young people who identify as non-heterosexual face even more challenges than we may have thought. The study was published today in the journal Pediatrics.