Key messages

  • Young people who are LGBTI can experience issues that impact their health, such as difficulty coming out, finding support and services, managing housing and homelessness, finding sexual health information, managing alcohol and other drug use and maintaining good mental health.
  • To achieve the best health outcomes, young people who are LGBTI need services that are sensitive to their needs.
  • The school environment can be crucial for the health and wellbeing of young people who are LGBTI. Many schools are becoming more inclusive of same-sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex (SSAGDI) young people.
  • Supportive schools and supportive family environments help reduce adverse mental health outcomes for young people who are LGBTI.
  • Cyber-safety is important for young people who are LGBTI and who access support and information online.

Young people who are LGBTI can experience a range of issues that can impact upon their health. This includes difficulty coming out as LGBTI, finding LGBTI support and services, managing housing and homelessness, finding appropriate sexual health information, managing the risks associated with alcohol and other drugs and maintaining good mental health. To achieve the best health outcomes, young people who are LGBTI therefore need a range of services that are sensitive to their needs.

Schools can be crucial for the health and wellbeing of young people who are LGBTI. Many schools are becoming more inclusive of young people who are same-sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex (SSAGDI). For instance, ‘queer-straight alliances’ and ‘diversity groups’ have been formed in schools by young people who are LGBTI and/or by those who support them. Despite this, young people who are SSAGDI can face verbal and physical homophobic and transphobic abuse, bullying at school and difficulty establishing relationships.

Another issue for young people who are SSAGDI is that they are more likely than their heterosexual peers to become sexually active at a younger age and are less likely to practise safe sex. This can have an impact on their sexual, reproductive and mental health. Supportive schools that acknowledge same-sex attraction, gender diversity and intersex variations can reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes. There is an opportunity to foster this environment through discussion in sex education classes and through encouraging families to be supportive.

Young people who are SSAGDI are at higher risk of verbal, sexual and/or physical victimisation and abuse than other young people. This experience also puts them at higher risk of social and mental health problems than their peers. This can lead to young people who are SSAGDI feeling unsafe, taking sexual risks, abusing alcohol and other drugs, dropping out of school, becoming homeless, harming themselves and attempting suicide.

Interconnections with other factors that can affect the health of young people who are SSAGDI include living in a rural area, being Aboriginal, being from a culturally or linguistically diverse background, being a refugee or asylum seeker or having one or more disabilities.

Young people who are SSAGDI may need different support networks than other young people. They are, for instance, less likely to disclose their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to their family, preferring to disclose first to friends. Young people who are SSAGDI primarily tend to access support networks and information through the internet and online communities, including social media. Attending to the cyber-safety of young people who are SSAGDI is therefore important for their health and wellbeing.

References

Bowring, A. L., Vella, A. M., Degenhardt, L., Hellard, M., and Lim, M. S. C., 2013, Research paper: Sexual identity, same-sex partners and risk behaviour among a community-based sample of young people in Australia, In press, International Journal of Drug Policy.

Hillier, L., Jones, T., Monagle, M., Overton, N., Gahan, L., Blackman, J., and Mitchell, A., 2010, Writing Themselves In 3: The third national study on the sexual health and well being of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people, in: Monograph series no. 78, La Trobe University, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Melbourne.

Rew, L., Whittaker, T. A., Taylor-Seehafer, M. A., and Smith, L. R., 2005, Sexual health risks and protective resources in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual homeless youth, Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, 10(1):11-19.

Scourfield, J., Roen, K., and McDermott, L., 2008, Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people's experiences of distress: resilience, ambivalence and self-destructive behaviour, Health & Social Care in the Community 16(3):329-336.

Van Leeuwen, J. M., Boyle, S., Salomonsen-Sautel, S., Baker, D. N., Garcia, J. T., Hoffman, A., and Hopfer, C. J., 2006,Lesbian, gay, and bisexual homeless youth: an eight-city public health perspective, Child Welfare, 85(2):151-170.

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