The number of Massachusetts high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or are questioning their gender identity or sexuality is at more than 15 percent, according to a new state report.
The data come from the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, an independent state agency, in its annual report and recommendations on improving the lives of those young people. It is aimed not only at lawmakers and government agencies, but also at schools and families.
The report outlines four main goals: increasing LGBTQ inclusion, advancing justice, ending homelessness among LGBTQ youths, and improving sexual and mental health education in the classroom.
The commission’s executive director, Corey Prachniak-Rincon, spoke with the Metro Minute about two of the key issues.
■ Ending homelessness: A 2018 tally that surveyed 2,150 Massachusetts youths or young adults who are homeless or lack stable housing found that 21.9 percent identified as LGBTQ. Among black LGBTQ youths, the number rose to 31 percent.
Prachniak-Rincon said the commission wants homeless LGBTQ youths to have access to identification cards, which could help them find work and obtain services.
“Without proper government-issued IDs, LGBTQ youths experiencing homelessness are unable to open bank accounts, enroll in school, access housing, or become employed,” Prachniak-Rincon said. “They are also at higher risk of adverse encounters with law enforcement.”
The report also urges more funding for organizations that work to prevent and treat youth homelessness. It cited a national survey in which 65 percent of service organizations said that lack of funding was the leading reason they fail to serve homeless LGBTQ youths.
■ Help in the classroom: Many schools provide little information tailored or applicable to LGBTQ teenagers on sexual education, Prachniak-Rincon said.
“They need to have information that applies to them and their lives, and that might be different information,” Prachniak-Rincon said.
In addition, a study found that stereotypes and bullying related to gay sexual education impedes students’ ability to retain information.
“The researchers have surmised this as a defensive mechanism,” Prachniak-Rincon said. “They felt panicked that they were going to be called out, so they tuned out the information.”
Schools can also improve by offering more resources and allies for LGBTQ youth who are bullied at home or at school.
The report said more than one-third of the state’s LGBTQ youth seriously harmed themselves in the past year, and nearly as many said they had seriously contemplated suicide.
By comparison, 11 percent of non-LGBTQ youth resorted to self-harm and 10 percent had serious suicidal thoughts.
Queer youths are 70 percent more likely to be cyber-bullied than non-queer peers, and queer girls are affected most, according to the report.
“We often picture mostly gay and bisexual boys getting teased in the locker room, but we saw that the rates among girls who are LGBTQ are much higher than the rates among boys,” Prachniak-Rincon said. “For me that was really informative.”
As a result, the commission recommends schools hire more LGBTQ staff and faculty and incorporate more queer content in all disciplines and materials.