Academic journal article Child Welfare

Hazards of Stigma: The Sexual and Physical Abuse of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents in the United States and Canada

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Hazards of Stigma: The Sexual and Physical Abuse of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents in the United States and Canada

Article excerpt

Some studies suggest lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teens are at higher risk than peers for violence at home, in school, and in the community. That can bring them into the child welfare system or services for runaway and homeless teens. This study compared self-reported experiences of sexual and physical abuse based on sexual orientation and gender in seven population-based surveys of youth. The authors used c^sup 2^ and age-adjusted odds of abuse to compare bisexual to heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, and gay and lesbian students. They also provide case studies to illustrate the experiences of such youth.

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Case 1. "Troy" was taken from his mother at age 5 because of neglect and abuse. He has moved so often and been in so many foster care facilities that he has lost count. Until he met an openly gay teen at his latest foster home, he had no idea this was even a possibility. Troy really liked this boy; one thing led to another, and they ended up getting caught in the midst of a sexual experience, which was very embarrassing. His social worker thought it best the boys be separated, and placed Troy in a home with deeply religious conservative foster parents. Along with other religious rituals that were supposed to eliminate his desire for men, his foster parents' church tried exorcism.

Negative messages toward sexual minority groups are common across North American society: from the con stant antigay pejoratives heard in high school hallways, to the bitter protests at school board meetings against bullying policies that specifically include antigay harassment; in sermons at local places of worship and in major statements by the leaders of some religious denominations; in arguments before the courts, as well as debates in the U.S. Congress and Canadian House of Commons; and recently, in the media's wide coverage of campaigns against gay marriage, as well as its gratuitous humor in sitcoms and commercials at gay people's expense. In nearly every social arena, identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) carries a burden of stigma and societal disapproval. That disapproval is not always limited to words; research has identified pervasive discrimination experienced by sexual minority adults in U.S. employment, housing, and social interactions nationwide (Mays & Cochran, 2001), as well as hate crimes ranging from property damage to murder (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004). Health Canada has identified stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation status as social determinants of health that contribute to health disparities for LGB people (de Bruyn, 2005).

Case 2. "Sue," age 15, lives in the suburbs with both parents and two younger siblings. She feels that her parents' beliefs are too strict for her, especially since she has a crush on one of her girlfriends. Her parents have no idea about her romantic exploration, but they are concerned her behavior has changed in the last six months. They also do not know yet that kids at school have found out about Sue and her friend and are harassing the two girls. Sue wants to get away from everyone at this point.

Some studies from the U.S. and Canada have documented the anxious, angry, and even violent responses LGB youth experience from their families, at school, and in the community (Reis & Saewyc, 1999). Families can be influenced by the stigmatizing attitudes in their social and cultural environments, and when a son or daughter discloses a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, some families respond with hostility and distress (D'Augelli, Hershberger & Pilkington, 1998; Pilkington & D'Augelli, 1995; Murphy, Sidhu, & Tonkin, 1999; Waldo, Hesson-Mclnnis, & D'Augelli, 1998). One limitation of these studies is they draw on convenience samples of LGB youth and may not represent the general population of sexual minority teens. They do suggest, however, that some of the suspected maltreatment cases child welfare workers encounter will involve LGB youth and unsupportive family members. …

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