LGBT kids always have suspected that some teachers are out to get them. This week, we have proof. A somewhat startling research project by Kathryn Himmelstein revealed that gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers in the U.S. are 40% more likely to be punished by schools, police and the courts than straight teens — even though they are less likely to be involved in serious misbehavior.
Himmelstein, who was a Yale undergraduate when she started the project, published the study in January’s Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study included 15,000 middle and high school students who were followed for seven years into early adulthood. Her supervisor, Yale sociology professor Dr. Hanna Brükner, co-authored the study.
With so much attention focused on anti-gay bullying and LGBT teen suicides, data that points to homophobic treatment by those in authority could explain why bullying is so rampant in schools — and why gay teens seem prone to getting in trouble.
“The painful, even lethal bullying that LGB youth suffer at the hands of their peers has been highlighted by recent tragic events,” Himmelstein notes. “Our numbers suggest that school officials, police and judges, who should be protecting LGB youth, are instead singling them out for punishment based on their sexual orientation. LGB teens can’t thrive if adults single them out for punishment because of their sexual orientation.”
Even more disturbing is the finding that girl are especially at risk for unequal treatment. Lesbian and bisexual girls were two to three times more likely to be punished as straight peers with similar behavior.
“Girls who labeled themselves as lesbian or bisexual were especially at risk for unequal treatment,” said Himmelstein. “They reported experiencing twice as many police stops, arrests and convictions as other girls who had engaged in similar behavior. Although we did not explore the experiences of transgender youth, anecdotal reports suggest that they are similarly at risk for excessive punishment.”
The author didn’t explore the reasons for unequal treatment, but we certainly know that not conforming to traditional “feminine” behavior often gets lesbians pegged as aggressive or uncooperative. And we’re not surprised to learn that unequal treatment starts early. After all, our entire society is geared toward treating us as second-class citizens.
Download the entire article at the Pediatrics website and give it a read. It’s depressing, but enlightening. Let’s hope it’s also a catalyst for change.