Nonheterosexual adolescents are vulnerable to health risks including addiction, bullying, and familial abuse. We examined whether they also suffer disproportionate school and criminal-justice sanctions.
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health followed a nationally representative sample of adolescents who were in grades 7 through 12 in 1994–1995. Data from the 1994–1995 survey and the 2001–2002 follow-up were analyzed. Three measures were used to assess nonheterosexuality: same-sex attraction, same-sex romantic relationships, and lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) self-identification. Six outcomes were assessed: school expulsion; police stops; juvenile arrest; juvenile conviction; adult arrest; and adult conviction. Multivariate analyses controlled for adolescents' sociodemographics and behaviors, including illegal conduct.
Nonheterosexuality consistently predicted a higher risk for sanctions. For example, in multivariate analyses, nonheterosexual adolescents had greater odds of being stopped by the police (odds ratio: 1.38 [P < .0001] for same-sex attraction and 1.53 [P < .0001] for LGB self-identification). Similar trends were observed for school expulsion, juvenile arrest and conviction, and adult conviction. Nonheterosexual girls were at particularly high risk.
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.