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Gay–Straight Alliances: A Mechanism of Health Risk Reduction Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Adolescents

      Introduction

      Adolescents who identify as a sexual or gender minority are vulnerable to multiple health disparities because of stigma-based peer harassment. Given that sexual and gender minority adolescents may be bullied for several stigmatized identities that may exacerbate health risk, it is important to examine factors that can simultaneously reduce multiple forms of targeted victimization among sexual and gender minority adolescents. This study examines whether variation in health risk across sexual and gender minority adolescents who attend schools with versus without a gay–straight alliance can be explained by lessened bias-based bullying across a broad scope of stigmatized identities and attributes.

      Methods

      Data on school-based gay–straight alliances, bias-based bullying, and health risk indicators were collected from the LGBTQ National Teen Survey (n=17,112; mean age=15.57 [SD=1.27] years) and analyzed in 2019. Multiple mediation analysis was conducted using latent variable structural equation modeling.

      Results

      The majority (73%) of sexual and gender minority adolescents were bullied for stigmatized identities other than those related to their gender or sexual orientation. Compared to schools without a gay–straight alliance, student reports of multiple forms of bias-based bullying (based on body weight, gender, religion, disability, gender typicality, sexual orientation) were lower at schools with gay–straight alliances, which in turn attenuated adverse health outcomes (i.e., stress, sleep problems, depression, and unhealthy weight control behaviors).

      Conclusions

      Sexual and gender minority adolescents experience multiple forms of bias-based bullying, which independently heighten health risk, and this study extends previous work on gay–straight alliances to highlight a wider range of potential positive contributions to adolescent health.
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