Detailed anti-bullying laws can help protect LGBT+ teens, research says

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. states with anti-bullying laws that explicitly protect LGBT+ teens have fewer suicide attempts among youth than states with more general laws, according to new research that could help protect vulnerable children.

All 50 U.S. states have anti-bullying laws, but fewer than half name sexual orientation as a category to be protected, said the research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Williams Institute at the University of California School of Law, a public policy research group.

Often the victims of bullying, LGBT+ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than are heterosexual students, according to Suicidal Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), a Minnesota-based suicide prevention group.

There is no official tally of LGBT+ youth suicides.

“Enumeration of sexual orientation in state anti-bullying laws is a first step,” Ilan Meyer, lead author of the report and a senior public policy scholar at the Williams Institute, said in a statement.

The report analyzed 2015 data on the leading causes of death among teens ages 14 to 18 in the United States.

The research found suicide rates were lower among all teens in states with specific anti-bullying laws protecting LGBT+ youth.

Students living in those states also face fewer sources of stress such as feeling unsafe in or on their way to school, said the report, published this week in LGBT Health, a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal.

“Our crisis counselors hear from young people every day. They don’t want to go to school for fear of bullying and rejection,” Amit Paley, head of the Trevor Project, a California group providing suicide-prevention services to LGBT+ young people, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Some advocates for LGBT+ rights are waging state-level campaigns to introduce laws that identify and expand the categories of students to be protected from bullying and harassment.

The most effective anti-bullying laws list characteristics that are frequently the subject of harassment, such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to GLSEN, a New York-based group that advocates for making schools safe and inclusive.

Several states have laws forbidding teachers to discuss gay and transgender issues in schools, the report said.

“We know first-hand the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive anti-bullying policies,” Paley said. “Establishing more of these policies can help protect LGBTQ youth in places where they spend much of their time.”

SOURCE: LGBT Health, online January 14, 2019.