LGBT youth have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning to manage a stigmatized identity. This extra burden puts LGBT youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide. esbian-gay-bisexual-transgender

Stigma, Identity, and Risk of Being Gay

Sexual orientation evolves over a period of time. However, studies have documented a decreasing age of identity development and coming out among lesbian and gay youth, with initial awareness of same-sex attraction at, on average, age 10; first same-sex experiences at 13 to 15; and first self-identifying as lesbian or gay (initial “coming out”) at around age 15 to 16 (D’Augelli & Herschberger, 1993; Herdt & Boxer, 1993; Rosario et al., 1996). Studies of more recent generations of lesbian and gay youth suggest that the period between becoming aware of same-sex attraction and self-identifying as lesbian or gay is much shorter than in previous generations. Although people may be more aware that an adolescent may be gay, they are generally no more tolerant and may even be less accepting of homosexuality in adolescents. In fact, violence and harassment against LGBT youth appear to be increasing. For those youth who choose to self-disclose or are found out, coping with this stressful life event is most challenging. Adolescents at this point in their lives have not developed coping strategies and are more likely than adults to respond poorly to these stressors. These youth must adapt to living in a hostile environment and learn how to find positive environments (Hunter & Mallon, 1999). From very early ages, children and adolescents are exposed to negative stereotypes about homosexuality. They learn to hide same-sex feelings and attractions to avoid rejection and ridicule. As they begin to realize that they might be gay, these negative stereotypes may increase their feelings of conflict, identity confusion, or even self-hate. Adolescents may repress, deny, or attempt to change these feelings through a range of coping behaviors, including heterosexual activity, use of alcohol and drugs, dating the opposite sex, fathering a child or becoming pregnant, and immersing themselves in sports or school activities. Youth of color face additional stresses and challenges in integrating their sexual, racial, and ethnic identities (Hunter & Schaecher,1995; Tremble, Schneider & Appathurai, 1989). Racial and ethnic identities are established at early ages, before a person becomes aware of same-sex feelings that may signal a non-heterosexual identity. Adolescents who may be gay have little support for developing an LGBT identity. At the same time, they interact with three separate communities—including their ethnic or cultural community, LGBT communities, and mainstream culture—none of which provide support for all aspects of their multiple identities. Having to manage more than one stigmatized identity increases the adolescent’s level of vulnerability and stress (Greene, 1994). Because ethnic minority communities are important providers of essential emotional and practical support, their LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable to rejection. Openly identifying themselves as gay may jeopardize acceptance by the family and ethnic community of youth. Thus, many youth of color hide their sexual orientation and, as a result, are often less visible than their Caucasian gay peers. Depression and risk for suicide appear to be high for many of these young people (Rotheram-Borus, Hunter & Rosario, 1994). Most LGBT youth grow up to lead satisfying, productive lives, but some young people are more vulnerable and are at greater risk than others. A past history of abuse and neglect, severe stress, and underlying emotional disorders may influence a young person’s ability to cope. Hetrick and Martin (1987) have suggested that adolescents with these histories may account for the majority of gay youth who attempt suicide or who develop serious substance abuse problems. LGBT youth have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning to manage a stigmatized identity. This extra burden puts LGBT youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide. Sexual orientation evolves over a period of time. However, studies have documented a decreasing age of identity development and coming out among lesbian and gay youth, with initial awareness of same-sex attraction at, on average, age 10; first same-sex experiences at 13 to 15; and first self-identifying as lesbian or gay (initial “coming out”) at around age 15 to 16 (D’Augelli & Herschberger, 1993; Herdt & Boxer, 1993; Rosario et al., 1996). Studies of more recent generations of lesbian and gay youth suggest that the period between becoming aware of same-sex attraction and self-identifying as lesbian or gay is much shorter than in previous generations. Although people may be more aware that an adolescent may be gay, they are generally no more tolerant and may even be less accepting of homosexuality in adolescents. In fact, violence and harassment against LGBT youth appear to be increasing. For those youth who choose to self-disclose or are found out, coping with this stressful life event is most challenging. Adolescents at this point in their lives have not developed coping strategies and are more likely than adults to respond poorly to these stressors. These youth must adapt to living in a hostile environment and learn how to find positive environments (Hunter & Mallon, 1999). From very early ages, children and adolescents are exposed to negative stereotypes about homosexuality. They learn to hide same-sex feelings and attractions to avoid rejection and ridicule. As they begin to realize that they might be gay, these negative stereotypes may increase their feelings of conflict, identity confusion, or even self-hate. Adolescents may repress, deny, or attempt to change these feelings through a range of coping behaviors, including heterosexual activity, use of alcohol and drugs, dating the opposite sex, fathering a child or becoming pregnant, and immersing themselves in sports or school activities. Youth of color face additional stresses and challenges in integrating their sexual, racial, and ethnic identities (Hunter & Schaecher,1995; Tremble, Schneider & Appathurai, 1989). Racial and ethnic identities are established at early ages, before a person becomes aware of same-sex feelings that may signal a non-heterosexual identity. Adolescents who may be gay have little support for developing an LGBT identity. At the same time, they interact with three separate communities—including their ethnic or cultural community, LGBT communities, and mainstream culture—none of which provide support for all aspects of their multiple identities. Having to manage more than one stigmatized identity increases the adolescent’s level of vulnerability and stress (Greene, 1994). Because ethnic minority communities are important providers of essential emotional and practical support, their LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable to rejection. Openly identifying themselves as gay may jeopardize acceptance by the family and ethnic community of youth. Thus, many youth of color hide their sexual orientation and, as a result, are often less visible than their Caucasian gay peers. Depression and risk for suicide appear to be high for many of these young people (Rotheram-Borus, Hunter & Rosario, 1994). Most LGBT youth grow up to lead satisfying, productive lives, but some young people are more vulnerable and are at greater risk than others. A past history of abuse and neglect, severe stress, and underlying emotional disorders may influence a young person’s ability to cope. Hetrick and Martin (1987) have suggested that adolescents with these histories may account for the majority of gay youth who attempt suicide or who develop serious substance abuse problems.