LGBT Youth Face Pervasive Discrimination, But Remain Hopeful

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released Growing Up LGBT in America yesterday, the first in a series of reports based on the largest known survey of LGBT youth to date.  The report finds that LGBT youth experience more rejection and intolerance and less support in comparison to their non-LGBT peers.

HRC surveyed more than 10,000 self-identified LGBT teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. Those surveyed represent diverse geographical, social, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds in the country.

Growing up LGBT in America reports that non-LGBT youth are almost twice as likely as LGBT youth to self-identify as happy. This may not be surprising, considering that LGBT youth are twice as likely to be verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and excluded by their peers. In the thick of a climate of physical and emotional abuse, only half of these teens feel they could turn to an adult in their family for help and close to a third did not feel they had any adults in their lives they could trust to talk to about their problems. In comparison, 79% of non-LGBT youth reported having an adult in their family whom they felt would help them.

With a distinct correlation between orientation and exclusion in their personal lives, one would hope that LGBT-identified youth would find more reassuring messages elsewhere. HRC says they do, but with a catch. While 78% say they hear positive messages about being LGBT, an even more overwhelming 92% say they hear negative messages.  More than two-thirds report hearing these negative messages from peers and close to half have heard them from family members. Almost twice as many positive messages come from movies, TV, and radio than from family members, and nearly 90% of the positive messages came from the internet.

Considering that 78% of LGBT youth have heard positive messages, it makes sense that about the same number of LGBT youth say they believe that things will get better for them in the future.

These numbers illustrate the enormous role of the media in the lives and outlook of LGBT-identified youth across the board, particularly in lieu of role models or supportive interpersonal relationships. They also speak to the strength and conviction of youth who face discrimination on a regular basis within their personal lives and from pop culture.

“Anti-gay vitriol creates a toxic environment that can make LGBT people—particularly youth—think they are not worthy of the same legal rights and love that all Americans deserve,” according to the author of the report. “The findings of Growing Up LGBT in America are a call to action for all adults who want to ensure that young people can thrive.”

“A call to action” is indeed necessary for adults, peers, institutions (religious, governmental, etc.), and the media. Let us not disappoint the three-quarters of LGBT youth who believe a brighter future is possible.