Issues for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents
Richard Niolon, Ph.D.
Issues for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents


The purpose of this article is to highlight the difficulties gay and lesbian adolescents have in coming to terms with their sexuality. It is hoped that presenting this material may raise sensitivity to that process, as well as raise sensitivity to the effects of homophobia and it's effect on adolescents in general.

The Church

The church has consistently condemned homosexual behavior or lifestyle as acceptable. Gay and lesbian adolescents thus face religious conflict and discrimination.

Variant Families

There may be several stressors affecting straight adolescents from gay and lesbian families, which are worth noting here.

-courts may remove children for fear they will be "converted" which studies do not seem to confirm

-courts may fear that the children will be harassed by other children because of their parent's lifestyle, and studies do lend some support to this

-male children in lesbian families may have special difficulty dealing with their mother's sexuality, and studies do lend some support to this

-there may be concern about the lack of male role models in lesbian families, however studies seem to refute this as a problem,

-lesbian parents may have to balance social responsibilities and parental responsibilities, and while they may do this poorly, so other parents may balance occupational, social, religious etc… responsibilities poorly as well, and these may be just as difficult to resolve in single parent households too

-the impact of AIDS may be especially hard on gay or lesbian families compared to heterosexual families

Martin and Hetrick

Martin and Hetrick (1988) in their study of gay and lesbian high school student note that

- over 40% of their sample had suffered violence because of their sexual orientation

-49% of the violence occurred within the family, from parents or siblings.

-41% of females and 34% of males who experienced violent assaults reported having attempted suicide

-Martin and Hetrick (1988) report 21% of their total sample had attempted suicide before the age of 20

-often, expulsion or running away from home results when the adolescent's sexual orientation is discovered

-22% of their sample reported sexual abuse

-25-35% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual college students indicated that they had engaged in sexual intercourse against their will because they felt coerced to do so

Colgan (1987) uses Erikson's theory of psychosocial development to discuss problems in the development of identity and intimacy in gay males. A positive identity involves having a positive sense of self-worth and seeking relationships that value that sense of worth. An identity disorder involves a negative sense of self (low self-esteem) and seeking out relationships that reinforce one's sense of worthlessness. Intimacy is a sense of belonging, of trusting and caring for others, and listening and responding to others. An intimacy dysfunction involves an identity disordered male that must rely on outside agents to provide a sense of worth.

Other important data --

Shaefer et al, 1987 reported that gays and lesbians are at three times the risk of the heterosexual population for developing alcoholism. Alcoholism has been linked to non-acceptance of gay identity, and that only after attaining sobriety for an extended period of time could alcoholic gays accept their identity as positive (Kus, 1989).

Martin and Hetrick (1988) discuss 3 kinds of isolation - cognitive, social, and emotional - which are equally applicable to adult gay and lesbian relationships.

-Cognitive Isolation - lack of information about gays and lesbians, how gay and lesbian couples function, how long they stay coupled, how they determine gender roles, and how they solve relationship problems.

-Social Isolation - lack of contact with positive role models reinforces the negative value that society places on homosexuals.

-Emotional Isolation - poor social support and few resources. For example, lower social support from families, fewer resources in the community, stigmatization (may increase the impact of stressful life events), and legal discrimination (homosexual behavior is still considered illegal in 24 of the United States).