Monday, May 13, 2002
By Charnicia Huggins NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adolescents appear to be at a higher risk for physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse and mental health problems than their heterosexual peers, new study findings show. "Survival on the streets is a constant struggle for all homeless adolescents," Bryan N. Cochran, a doctoral student at the University of Washington in Seattle, told Reuters Health. "However, for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT), these challenges become even greater in the context of having a stigmatized sexual identity." Cochran and his colleagues investigated the challenges of being homeless in a 1995-1998 study of 84 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Seattle youth aged 13 to 21. For comparison, the study also included 84 heterosexual youth. Both groups of adolescents left home for similar reasons, such as family conflict, a desire for freedom and difficulties with a family member, the investigators report in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, journal of the American Public Health Association. However, GLBT youth left home almost twice as often as their heterosexual peers and were more likely to cite physical abuse at home as a reason for leaving. GLBT adolescents also reported experiencing more instances of sexual abuse since they became homeless than did their heterosexual peers, study findings indicate. Further, these youth reported more frequent use of substances--especially cocaine/crack, crack/crack mixed with amphetamines, and speed/crystal methamphetamines--than did their heterosexual peers, and also used a larger variety of drugs, the researchers report. What's more, GLBT youth reported a much higher level of mental health symptoms, as well as more withdrawn behavior, social problems and delinquency than did their heterosexual peers. Finally, although nearly all (94%) of the youth said they had had sex voluntarily at least one time in their life, GLBT youth reported having sex for the first time at much younger ages than their peers. They also reported having almost twice as many sexual partners as their heterosexual peers, and said they engaged in unprotected sex approximately "half of the time," the report indicates. "GLBT youth are an extremely vulnerable population, even more so when they are homeless," Cochran said. "We believe that more service programs are needed that directly address the needs of GLBT homeless adolescents and protect them from the increased risks that they experience." SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2002;92:773-777.