More gay and bisexual teens expelled and jailed

Mon Dec 6, 2010 1:37am EST
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By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Many teens act out, but those with a history of homosexual feelings or relationships are more likely to be punished for it, a new study finds.

"We're seeing that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more likely to be expelled from school, or stopped by the police or whatever sanction we're looking at," researcher Kathryn Himmelstein told Reuters Health.

Specifically, they found that when all teens committed the same amount of bad behavior, those with a history of homosexual feelings or relationships were between 30 and 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.

Teens who self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were also more likely to be arrested and convicted of a crime as juveniles.

"Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are being singled out for punishment and there needs to be intentional steps taken to address this disparity," Himmelstein said in an interview. For instance, adults who mete out punishments should receive training in the needs and challenges of non-heterosexual youth, she suggested. "It may not even be intentional on the part of the people making these decisions."

Meanwhile, parents of these teenagers can try to minimize the bias by sticking up for their children, Himmelstein noted. "To the best of their ability, parents can be advocates for their children with other adults," including school administrators, police and judges.

The teenage years can be tough for people who have homosexual feelings or relationships. Previous research has found that one-quarter of these teenagers leave home because of their sexual orientation and even more suffer family violence or are harassed by their peers.

As a result, many experience depression, commit suicide or become homeless. They are also more likely to carry weapons and engage in petty crimes, presumably for survival on the streets.   Continued...