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Gay Teens More Likely to Face Punishment

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics has found that gay teenagers face more and harsher punishment than straight teens, even though they are no more likely than their straight peers to misbehave. In fact, when it comes to serious misdeeds, gay teens are less likely to be at fault than straight teens, but more likely to face punishment -- including school expulsion, arrest and conviction.

teenager punished in class
The study, which looked at a national sample of teenagers from grades seven through 12, concluded that:
  • Nonheterosexual 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.
Study author Kathryn Himmelstein, who began her research as an undergraduate at Yale, told the New York Times that she began the project after noticing how many kids in the juvenile justice system (where she was working) were gay. It turned out that gay kids were being disproportionately stopped and punished, probably because of unconscious bias on the part of adults in authority.

"I think adults who work with young people, for better or worse, tend to quickly categorize kids," Betsy Purcell, who works for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Times. "They may not be categorizing them as LGBT, but as mainstream or out of the mainstream, a potential troublemaker or not a potential troublemaker."

There's been a lot of press recently about how frequently gay teens face bullying, and how devastating its effects can be. Many of the articles and op-eds have asked, "How can adults let this happen? What should the adults do?"

Here's an idea: Adults should stop picking on gay teens! And then we should all sit down and tell our kids this: "Being different is not a crime." We need to tell this to both the kids we think might be different and those we think are not different -- because they're the ones who need to hear it.

next: Am I Losing It, or Can I Blame My Hormones?
2 comments so far | Post a comment now
anonymous December 15, 2010, 8:54 AM

Here’s an idea! We should actually learn what unconscious means!

They aren’t doing it on purpose; that’s the whole point. Anyway, the whole conclusion drawn is iffy. Correlation does not imply causation.

Anonymous December 15, 2010, 12:29 PM

Well said. About the unconscious anyway.

Also, this was kind of redundant:

“Being different is not a crime.” We need to tell this to both the kids we think might be different and those we think are not different”

Basically, we need to tell ALL teens that it’s okay to be different.

On a more serious note, I would be interested to know whether the teens in the study were actually gay, or if some of them were just effiminate. I have effiminate friends who aren’t gay. I also have a friend I kept forgetting was gay for the first couple of years I knew him. Besides which, teens themselves don’t always have an answer to this.

Given that the average teacher probably has one to two hundred students to deal with throughout the week, is it likely that the teacher will know about the personal sexual choices of each student? I suppose what I’m asking is whether it’s really that gay teens are being punished more, or whether it’s teens who are perceived to be gay who are facing greater censure?

Either way, it’s wrong, of course is it, it’s just that life is complicated and this study doesn’t seem to address that.

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