Adolescence is a time period of physical, psychological and cognitive changes. It is an important phase for an individual to discover who they really are (self-identity), how they are perceived (social identity) and how they fit into the environment they live in.1 One of the major tasks of adolescence is sexual maturation and sexual and /or gender identity development.2 Adolescents who are developing as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender face a tremendous challenge of establishing their identity which is often complex.3 They cope with the feelings of being different and are in constant dilemmas about revealing their identity (“coming out”) which is different from family and social expectations.3,4 While acceptance in certain segments of society is growing, sexual minority youth continue to be at risk for family rejection and face harassment, prejudice, discrimination and social isolation in schools as well as communities.

According to a national school climate survey5 conducted on students between the ages of 13 and 21 years in grades 6th-12th found that majority of schools had unsupportive environment for sexual minority youth. The survey examined the experiences of LGBT students with regards to hearing biased, homophobic remarks, feeling unsafe because of sexual orientation or gender expression, school absenteeism, harassment and assault in school. In the survey, 70-90% of students heard “gay” being often used in a negative way and other homophobic remarks (e.g. “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently at schools. Majority of students reported verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, 53% also experienced harassment via electronic mediums such as text messages, emails, instant messages, or postings on social media like Facebook. Approximately 20-40% students were subjected to physical harassment (e.g. shoved, punched, kicked, injured with weapon) at school. The LGBT students reported feeling unsafe because of the hostile school environment and were 3-4 times likely to miss classes and school leading to poor grades as compared to their peers. In addition, students who were victimized reported lack of interest in pursuing higher education and suffered low self-esteem. Further, sexual minority youth reported sexual victimization including dating violence and forced sexual intercourse. It is estimated that 19% to 29% of gay and lesbian students and 18% to 28% of bisexual students experienced dating violence. Approximately 14% to 31% of gay and lesbian students and 17% to 32% of bisexual students have been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.6

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Published in Dynamics of Human Health, v. 3, issue 1.

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