With the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) youth can anticipate more secure family life, now and in the future. To come of age in an era in which marriage rights are guaranteed represents a major shift for LGBTQ youth, and may have reverberating effects in other areas of their lives.
The recent ruling parallels a shift in public opinion about the rights of LGBTQ people, both on a societal and a more personal scale. Social acceptance matters deeply for LGBTQ youth, as feeling supported is one of the most important factors in predicting positive outcomes for them.
Most LGBTQ youth plan on being in relationships and becoming parents in the future. More than nine in 10 lesbian, and eight in 10 gay male youth expect to be monogamously partnered after age 30, and about nine in 10 of both lesbians and gay male youth report they expect to raise children someday.1 Considering these intentions, this ruling will most likely play an important role in how they plan their future lives.
With the recent remarkable developments in mind, we take a look at the characteristics of LGBTQ youth, some of the challenges that they still face, and some of the resources available to help families and schools support them.
Who are LGBTQ youth?
For many LGBTQ people, adolescence is the age in which they first begin to understand their sexual orientation and identity. In a recent Pew survey, LGBT adults reported, on average, that they first felt they might be something other than heterosexual at around age 12. Among those who say they now know for sure that they are LGBT,that awareness came at around age 17, on average.
It is impossible to know exactly how many youth are or will become LGBTQ. A recent poll indicates that 6.4 percent of young adults (ages 18-29) identify as LGBT in the United States. A similar percentage of older adolescents likely identify as LGBTQ. The prevalence of same-sex attraction among youth is higher than the prevalence of identification, which could be indicative of future sexual identity.2
Not all LGBTQ youth identify publically as such, though many do. A recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign of 10,000 self-identified LGBT youth found that nine in 10 are “out” to close friends and almost six in 10 are out to their immediate family.
Challenges LGBTQ youth face
LGBTQ youth as a group face many challenges, including hostile school environments, homelessness, and poor mental and physical health.
LGBTQ students often face more hostile school and home environments than heterosexual youth, particularly in regard to bullying and harassment. Lesbian, bisexual, and gay students are much more likely to be bullied than their heterosexual counterparts; a school climate survey revealed that roughly nine out of 10 LGBT students had experienced harassment at school in the previous year. These youth are also three times as likely to receive harsh disciplinary treatment by schools as their heterosexual counterparts and consequently, are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system.
LGBT youth are more likely to experience homelessness and are at greater risk for chronic homelessness: a national survey of homeless centers and agencies found that LGBT youth comprised 40 percent of youth served.
LGBTQ youth are also at increased risk for poor mental health,3 including higher rates of mental distress, suicidality, and substance abuse.4,5 Research suggests that depression reported by LGBTQ youth accrues largely because of victimization and lack of social support, rather than sexual orientation on its own. Additionally, LGBTQ youth are at increased risk of poor physical health, including sexual and reproductive health.
Supporting LGBTQ youth
While LGBTQ youth as a whole face many serious challenges, there are a growing number of resources for families and schools to help improve the situations for LGBTQ youth.
Current research indicates that family support is the most important factor for LGBTQ youth outcomes. There are many resources for parents of LGBTQ youth to help them learn how to provide support to their children, including (but not limited to):
- Parents’ Influence on the Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens: What Parents and Families Should Know (CDC)
- A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children (SAMHSA)
- Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teens: Facts for Teens and Their Parents (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Positive school climate and school connectedness have an important role in promoting LGBTQ youths’ well-being. There are many resources for schools to support LGBTQ students, including (but not limited to):
- Inclusion and Respect: GLSEN Resources for Educators (GLSEN)
- Strengthening the Learning Environment: A School Employee’s Guide to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues (NEA)
- Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel (APA)
While the recent ruling for same-sex marriage was monumental, it is important to remember serious challenges remain for many LGBTQ youth, and they need support in facing them.
Eliza Brown, Senior Research Assistant
 D’Augelli, A. R., Rendina, H. J., Sinclair, K. O., & Grossman, A. H. (2007). Lesbian and gay youth’s aspirations for marriage and raising children. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 1(4), 77-98.
 Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R., & Harris, L. (1992). Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics, 89, 714–721.
 D’Augelli, A. R., Grossman, A. H., & Starks, M. T. (2006). Childhood gender atypicality, victimization, and PTSD among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(11), 1462-1482.
 Shilo, G., & Savaya, R. (2011). Effects of family and friend support on LGB youths’ mental health and sexual orientation milestones. Family Relations, 60(3), 318-330.
 Grossman, A. H., & D’Augelli, A. R. (2007). Transgender youth and life-threatening behaviors. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 37(5), 527-537.