A gay, lesbian or bisexual adolescent is punished more severely at school and by the criminal-justice system compared to heterosexual people of the same age for the same offenses, researchers from Yale University report in the medical journal Pediatrics. The authors say the disproportionate punishments cannot be explained by worse illegal activities or behaviors. They add that in order to achieve equality among heterosexual and non-heterosexual youth, it is important first to understand what causes these disparities in school expulsions, arrests, imprisonments, and then to address them.

Non-heterosexual young people are already at a higher risk of being bullied, abused within their families and succumbing to addiction, the researchers explain. Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein, BA, and Hannah Brückner, PhD set out to find out whether they were also victims of unfair criminal-justice and school sanctions.

They examined the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health which tracked a representative sample of young people in 1994-1995 from grades 7 to the end of 12. They also gathered information on a 2001-2002 follow-up.

Their definition of non-heterosexuality included people attracted to those of the same sex, same-sex romantic relationships, or LGB (lesbian, gay or bisexual) identification.

The investigators focused on six outcomes:

  • Adult arrests
  • Adult convictions
  • Being stopped by the police
  • Expulsion from school
  • Juvenile arrests
  • Juvenile convictions

They found that non-heterosexual individuals had a significantly and consistently higher risk of being punished. Teenagers who are attracted to people of the same sex were found to have a 41% higher risk of being expelled from school, and a 42% greater chance of being convicted for a crime as an adult, compared to heterosexual individuals.

Non-heterosexual teenagers have a 38% higher risk of being stopped by the police.

It was already widely known that children bully non-heterosexual children. This study reveals how adults treat non-heterosexual children.

The authors stress (again) that the higher risk of punishment is not reflected in a greater participation of illegal actions or behaviors by non-heterosexual teenagers.

The authors concluded:

    “Non-heterosexual youth suffer disproportionate educational and criminal-justice punishments that are not explained by greater engagement in illegal or transgressive behaviors. Understanding and addressing these disparities might reduce school expulsions, arrests, and incarceration and their dire social and health consequences.”

“Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions Against Nonheterosexual Youth: A National Longitudinal Study”
Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein, BA, Hannah Brückner, PhD
PEDIATRICS (doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2306)

Written by Christian Nordqvist