Gay Teens Receive Harsher Penalties From Schools, Law Enforcement, Study Reveals

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

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A study has found that U.S. gay and lesbian teens -- especially girls -- are more likely to be punished by schools and the criminal justice system. Credit: Getty

During a year when gay bullying and suicides are increasingly gaining media attention, a new study indicates gay and lesbian teens are more likely to be thrown in jail or expelled from school than their straight peers.

The Washington Post reports gay and lesbian teens are almost 40 percent more likely than heterosexual teens to receive punishment. Lesbian teens are particularly at risk for unequal treatment from schools and the criminal justice system, the newspaper says, and researchers have found gay, lesbian and bisexual students face a higher number of expulsions, police stops or arrests.

The study, which finds "non-heterosexuality consistently predicted a higher risk for sanctions," appears in the journal Pediatrics. Focusing on information collected from 15,000 middle and high school students, Yale University researchers found gay and lesbians "were roughly 1.25 to 3 times more likely to be sanctioned than their straight peers," the Post reports.

Meanwhile, the newspaper adds, gay girls faced "50 percent more police stops and reported more than twice as many juvenile arrests and convictions as other teen girls in similar trouble." The study found about a 10th of the students in the study consider themselves to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, the Post reports, and more than 800 stated they were in same-sex relationships.

The data was compiled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, matching teen behaviors including drinking, shoplifting, lying to parents and other, more serious, infractions, to a half-dozen penalties as it interviewed students from the 1994-'95 school year through the 2001-'02 school year.

The study doesn't explain why the disparity exists in the punishments, but, experts tell the Post, the harsher punishments can have lasting repercussions, ranging from a teen's decision to stay in school to increased contact with the criminal courts system, which can impact everything from qualifications for housing to college funding.

The disparity is not surprising, Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League in Washington, D.C., tells the Post.

"This is a symptom of school administrators, teachers, court officials, police officers -- anyone who works with youth -- not necessarily being equipped to handle the challenges" faced by the teens in their care, he tells the newspaper. "It's much easier to punish the youth than to work with them and figure out why they may keep getting in fights and what is leading to this behavior."

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