Nine percent of young people in a New York City study of lesbian and gay youth meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The research found that for nearly one in ten of the young participants, experiences growing up lesbian or gay are linked to the same condition that affects many adults who are the victims of violent crime or are in an accident or natural disaster.
?These results join the growing body of data suggesting that violence directed at young people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual has a significant negative effect on their mental health,? said Robert-Jay Green, PhD, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a national research and public policy center located at Alliant International University. ?Many adults overlook such abuse, considering it an expected, normal part of childhood teasing. For the targets of this kind of aggression, however, it can be associated with serious psychological harm.?
The study was conducted by Anthony R. D?Augelli and Michael Starks of Penn State University and Arnold Grossman of New York University and published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in November, 2006. The research examined 528 New York City area youth aged 15 to 19 who were victimized based on their sexual orientation or whether they appeared to their peers to be ?sissies? or ?tomboys.? Participants were interviewed three times during a two-year period.
Three-fourths of the youths said they felt different from their peers as they were growing up. On average, the realization they were different occurred at about age eight. Parents noticed these differences, and few reacted positively to the possibility that their child was gay. Youths typically delayed ?coming out? to their parents until age 14 or 15. Nearly one-third of youth who were called ?sissies? or ?tomboys? by their peers said their parents tried to encourage traditional sex role behaviors.
Nearly 80 percent of the young people reported verbal taunts, some beginning as early as age 6. The average age that this gay-related verbal abuse started was 11 for males and 14 for females. More than 70 percent of these verbal incidents occurred at school. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) said they were very or extremely upset by the verbal victimization.
Fourteen percent of participants reported physical attacks, some as young as age 9. Males were most victimized by other males, while females were victimized almost equally by males (53 percent) and females (47 percent). Violence occurred most often at school (56 percent) or in a public setting (25 percent). Most participants (89 percent) said they were very or extremely upset by the physical victimization.
For nine percent, the victimization was sexual. Incidents occurred earlier for males (age 13) than for females (age 16). All of the attackers were male, and the most likely setting was at home (34 percent). Nearly all of the young people (97 percent) said they were very or extremely upset by the sexual victimization.
The study found that earlier victimization, the perception of these early experiences as highly upsetting, and the lifetime accumulation of victimization events are factors that can create long term psychological distress. Overall, the study found nine percent of participants met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as defined by the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Of those who had been called ?sissy? or ?tomboy,? the figure was 12 percent. PTSD was associated with increased physical victimization and with the degree of upset experienced. Thus, concluded the researchers, youth who are less gender typical in childhood and who are victimized may have elevated mental health and trauma symptoms, and some may have PTSD.
Overall, the study found 70 percent of verbal victimization and 56 percent of physical victimization occurred in schools. Noted Green, ?These data again point to an urgent need for training school administrators, teachers, and counselors to stop the bullying of lesbian and gay youths. Every child has a basic right to a safe learning environment free from verbal harassment and physical violence. Nobody, regardless of his or her political views on gay issues, wants to see these children hurt. It?s high time that school officials and shapers of education policy ensured safety for all of our children.?