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GLBT Teens Policed and Punished More than Straight Peers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new analysis shows gay, lesbian or bisexual teens are more often policed and punished than their straight peers. The findings are the first to show disparities in singling out and punishing youth based on sexual orientation. Findings from the study revealed excessive punishment unrelated to higher rates of misbehaviors. The findings likely include transgender youth, based on anecdotal evidence.

GLB Teens 50 Percent more Likely to be Stopped by Police

Kathryn Himmelstein, a Yale undergraduate at the time of the study explains teens identifying themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual were 50 percent more likely to be stopped by the police compared to other adolescents, noting "... police and judges, who should be protecting GLB youth, are instead singling them out for punishment based on their sexual orientation."

We found that virtually all types of punishment—including school expulsions, arrests, juvenile convictions, adult convictions and especially police stops—were more frequently meted out to GLB youth." They concluded the inequities could have "dire social and health consequences".

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The findings are the result of an analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) that followed 15,000 middle and high school students for 7 years. The study used questionnaires to gauge the frequency of a variety of misbehaviors ranging from lying to parents to using a weapon. Detailed data was collected from the participants about sexual orientation and about school expulsions and contacts with the criminal justice system.

Compared to other teens, lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents were also more likely to be expelled from school and convicted of crimes in adulthood, even though they actually engage in less violent behaviors than their peers do. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to document excessive policing and punishment of GLB teens nationwide.

The study authors say, "We need more research on the processes that lead to this to help us identify ways to make our institutions more equitable with respect to policing all youth, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation."

Himmelstein points out the combination of bullying from peers and excess policing and punishing by school officials, police and judges found in the analysis makes it hard for lesbian, gay and bisexual teens to thrive as adults. She also notes that transgender youth might face the same risks of excessive punishment as GLB adolescents.

Citation: Pediatrics Vol. 127, 1 (January 1, 2011)