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Gay, Bisexual Teens Take More Risks

May 4, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ Gay and bisexual teens are more likely to attempt suicide and take risks _ sexual and otherwise _ that endanger their health, a study found.

They also face more harassment at school and start experimenting with sex and drugs at an earlier age than their heterosexual peers, according to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics and released Monday.

``Most gay and lesbian kids grow up healthy,″ said Dr. Rob Garofalo, an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study. ``But there is a subset that don’t.″

He said the gay teens most likely to take risks are those who grow up without support for their sexual orientation, especially from their family.

``There’s a real impact when you’re stigmatized and grow up in a culture that’s unaccepting of who you are,″ Garofalo said.

The study analyzed data collected on 4,159 high school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a 1995 survey. The researchers looked only at the data from Massachusetts, one of only two states where students were asked their sexual orientation. The other state was Vermont.

Of the 2.5 percent who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, about half said they had engaged in more than five risky forms of behavior, compared with less than 25 percent of heterosexual teens surveyed.

Those risks included having sex before age 13, engaging in unsafe sex, and using cocaine, alcohol and marijuana before age 13.

The study also found that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens were:

_ three times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year;

_ nearly five times more likely to have been absent from school because of fear about safety;

_ and more than four times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school.

Katie Lubin, a 19-year-old lesbian who works as a peer counselor for gay teens in Chicago, often sees kids on the street taking risks _ most often those who have been kicked out of their homes or have run away.

``When you’re looking for something to eat and a place to stay, a condom isn’t the first thing you’re looking for,″ she said.

She added that her own experience has been very different because she had support from her family. ``My uncle is gay,″ she said. ``My mom took me to gay pride parades.″

Researchers said the study is significant because it lends credibility to studies done by organizations that serve gay teens.

They said it shows that teens who are questioning their sexuality need support from medical professionals and the public.

``These kids are not pathological. These are kids who are lonely, who haven’t got their coping skills developed. And they need support,″ said Joyce Hunter, a researcher at Columbia University and co-founder of the Harvey Milk School, a New York City high school for gay, lesbian and bisexual students. ``They need to know that they are not alone.″

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