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Challenges Faced by Homeless Sexual Minorities: Comparison of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Homeless Adolescents With Their Heterosexual Counterparts

May 16, 2002

Homeless youth represent a diverse population that reaches the street for a variety of reasons and whose numbers have grown in recent decades. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) homeless youth face the obstacles of survival on the streets as well as the stigma of sexual minority group membership.

It is difficult to estimate the proportion of GLBT youth in the street population. Study estimates range from 6 percent to 35 percent. Among adolescents in general, GLBT youth are more vulnerable to health and psychological problems than are heterosexual youth. High rates of externalizing and internalizing problems, including psychosis, have been found among this population and high rates of risky sexual behavior, including prostitution and survival sex place these young people at risk for victimization and STDs.

The current study is the first of its kind to examine psychosocial outcomes of GLBT homeless youth. The objectives of the study were to identify risks faced by GLBT homeless youth and to compare those risks to those of their heterosexual counterparts.

A sample of 84 GLBT was matched by age and self-reported gender with 84 heterosexual adolescents. The matched samples were recruited from a data pool of 375 adolescents ages 13-21 collected between 1995 and 1998. Youth were recruited for the Seattle Homeless Adolescent Research and Education project at street locations or social service agencies in metropolitan Seattle. Youth were eligible to participate if they spoke English, had not lived in the residence of a primary caretaker for at least 1 week, and had no stable home in which to live. Youth were paid $25 to participate in face-to-face structured interviews that included self-reported sexual identity, their reasons for leaving home, street victimization, their use of drugs and/or alcohol, and their sexual behavior. Depressive symptoms were measured with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and other behavior problems were assessed with Achenbach's Youth Self-Report.

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Results indicate that GLBT experience multiple negative outcomes with respect to frequency of departures from home, vulnerability to physical and sexual victimization, higher rates of addictive substance use, more psychopathology, and riskier sexual behavior, with more sexual partners in comparison with homeless heterosexual adolescents. GLBT also face great challenges as they work to come to terms with their sexual orientation. They frequently have no family members available, no school environment to support them, and transient or insufficient peer networks.

The researchers offered recommendations related to seeking adolescent's sexual identity in order to plan for services; addressing and acknowledging the contribution of homophobia to the etiology and maintenance of substance abuse problems and encouraging acceptance of sexual minorities among street youth and in shelters in order to reduce the risk of GLBT adolescent victimization.


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Adapted from:
American Journal of Public Health
05.02; Vol. 92; No. 5; P. 773-777; Bryan N. Cochran, M.S.; Angela J. Stewart, B.A.; Joshua A. Ginzler, Ph.D. and Ana Mari Cauce, Ph.D.



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

 

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