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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
April 2017

Supportive Policies Affect the Health of LGBTQ Youth

JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(4):404. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3103

The labels that describe a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation are important. The term lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer (LGBTQ) is used to include people who are described below.

The term lesbian means a girl or woman with a romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to other girls or women. The term gay refers to a boy or man with a romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to other boys or men. However, this term also refers to any person who is attracted to someone of the same gender. The term bisexual describes someone with a romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to people who are male and female. A related term is pansexual, which often refers to people who are attracted to people of all genders.

Transgender is a broad term to describe different types of gender identities, or how people see themselves. This term describes a person who was born as a particular sex but sees their gender identity as different from that sex. For example, a person born with male genitals who identities as female is transgender. This term refers to person’s identity, not their sexual orientation.

The term questioning describes any person who is questioning their own sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The term queer generally refers to the entire LGBTQ community.

All youths should be made to feel safe and supported in their families, schools, and communities. Unfortunately, negative attitudes toward LGBTQ identification can put these youths at risk for experiencing violence. Youths who are LGBTQ are more likely to experience teasing, harassment, bullying, and physical assault compared with non-LGBTQ peers. Furthermore, LGBTQ youths are at higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death from suicide compared with non-LGBTQ peers. Providing support to LGBTQ youths includes supporting equality.

A study in this month’s issue of JAMA Pediatrics surveyed high school students in several states. The researchers found that 8.6% of all high school students, and 28.5% of LGBTQ high school students reported suicide attempts. However, the study also found that when some states established policies to support same-sex marriage, there was an association with decreased suicide attempts among LGBTQ youths in these states. The study provided evidence that actions and policies that support equality and the LGBTQ community are associated with health benefits for these youths.

What Parents Can Do

Talk and Listen

For all youths, learning about romantic attraction and sex is complicated. Have conversations about healthy relationships early and often. Invite open discussion about sexual orientation in a way that makes your child feel loved and supported. Have honest conversations about sex, healthy relationships, and how to avoid health risks.

Provide Support

For parents who learn their child identifies as LGBTQ, providing support is essential. Talk openly, and remind your child frequently that you support and value them and affirm their identity.

Be Proactive

Parents can access many organizations and online resources to support their LGBTQ teenager, their teenager’s peers, and/or their community.

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Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.