A national survey including 330 Arizona teens provides a bleak look at what life feels like for youths who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Bullying, feelings of worthlessness, sleep troubles and family rejection topped the list of negatives, but the 12,000 American youths interviewed also shared some positive experiences, with 91 percent saying they feel proud of who they are and 3 out of 5 reporting access to a supportive club at school.
“Those are things that give us a sense of hope,” said Justin Unga, Arizona director for the national Human Rights Campaign, which carried out the LGBTQ Youth Report survey in collaboration with the University of Connecticut.
He said many LGBTQ youths are taking on leadership roles in their schools and advocating for inclusion.
One of the recommendations from the survey, whose findings were made public Wednesday, is for more adults to become advocates for these teens, whether it’s at home, in the school system or in mental health fields.
“If you are a parent or family member, make your home a safe and affirming place,” Unga said.
About 54 percent of the Arizona youths surveyed reported hearing negative comments about being LGBTQ from their parents, compared to 57 percent of the youths nationally, and 65 percent reported being teased and bullied in school compared to 43 percent nationally.
About two-thirds of the Arizona LGBTQ teens said they have been subjected to unwanted sexual comments, jokes and gestures in the last year, and only 9 percent reported receiving any positive messages about LGBTQ people at school.
Tucson mother Amy D’Arpino said her family has been very fortunate and while her 17-year-old transgender daughter has experienced some bullying, overall, Tucson has been a positive place to grow up. D’Arpino said teachers and administrators in the Flowing Wells School District have been inclusive and supportive.
“I’m hopeful people will listen and take action,” D’Arpino said. “It’s sad that the overwhelming theme of this survey is that (LGBTQ teens) still feel unsafe in general, at home and at school.”
As a longtime counselor at Rincon High School, Brenda Kazen advocates for her LGBTQ students and has worked, through the national Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, to create a safe school environment for all students.
Many things have improved over the 15 years she’s been there, she said, including gay and lesbian couples being accepted at school functions in the same way straight couples are accepted.
Generally, students are inclined to be inclusive, Kazen said. “For the most part, kids don’t care,” she said.
“Some kids will tease, but it’s often out of their own discomfort, which goes away when you have an honest conversation.”