September 14, 2016 at 3:02 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
One-third of LGB students in D.C. considered suicide: report
Jack Jacobson, gay news, gay politics dc, Youth Risk Behavior Survey

‘The numbers show … that LGBQ students are definitely more at risk than their general peers,’ said. D.C. State Board of Education President Jack Jacobson. (Photo courtesy Jacobson)

Thirty-two percent of D.C. public high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported they “seriously considered attempting suicide” during the previous 12 months, according to the latest findings of the District of Columbia school system’s annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey findings, which were released on Sept. 1, show that the LGB students’ heterosexual peers reported seriously considering suicide during the same 12-month period at a rate of 10 percent.

The survey data collected during calendar year 2015 also show that 31 percent of the sample of LGB high school students “made a plan about how they would attempt suicide” compared to 12 percent of heterosexual students who made such a plan.

The findings show that 25 percent of LGB students attempted suicide one or more times during the previous 12 months and 9 percent of them sustained “an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse.” Among the straight student sample, 10 percent attempted suicide one or more times and 4 percent sustained similar injuries, poisoning or an overdose in making such an attempt.

In what LGBT advocates are likely to consider even more troubling, 47 percent of the LGB high school students reported they “felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row so that they stopped doing some usual activities during the 12 months before the survey.” Twenty-three percent of the heterosexual students reported experiencing those same feelings.

“The survey is as expected,” said D.C. State Board of Education President Jack Jacobson, who’s gay. “The numbers show what we always thought they would, which is that LGBQ students are definitely more at risk than their general peers.”

Jacobson was referring to both local and nationwide data emerging from the annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which have consistently shown that LGB high school and in some cases middle school students are at higher risk for suicide, depression and bullying than their straight peers.

The survey was first developed in the late 1990s by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC updates the survey periodically. States and local school districts are free to modify the survey, and many of them do so.

Similar to the findings of the D.C. version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted over the past decade or longer, data on transgender students has not been included.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which administers the survey, did not respond to a request from the Washington Blade for the reason trans students have been omitted from the survey.

Jacobson said school officials have told him they attempted to include a survey question asking students to disclose their gender identity but the data did not appear to be reliable.

“My understanding on the trans issue is that the data that was collected is unreliable and the survey administrators are looking into how the questions can be improved because some students had questions about it,” Jacobson told the Blade.

“Some were false answers. So they’re looking at how to better phrase the questions, is my understanding, to get more reliable data,” Jacobson said.

That explanation is supported by Emily Greytak, director of research for the New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, which closely monitors LGBT issues pertaining to the nation’s public schools.

“The Youth Risk Behavior Survey does not now have a standard question or a question in the national survey that asks about transgender status,” she said.

According to Greytak, state education departments and individual school systems in various parts of the country have attempted to include a transgender question in the survey. Their findings so far, she said, have resulted in data believed to be false or misleading.

“Some of the earlier research has shown there is a lot of over identification,” with gay or straight kids misstating their gender identity because they didn’t understand the question.

“We really recognize the importance of asking and understanding the experiences of transgender youth,” Greytak said. “But we can’t include that on a general population survey unless we’re really confident that we’re going to get good data from it,” she said.

“So us along with many other advocacy groups have sort of said, hey, it’s worse to have bad data than no data,” said Greytak, while many of them are working on ways to fix the problem.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Youth Risk Behavior Survey findings released Sept. 1 show a smaller gap between LGB and straight students in the area of safety and potential violence from other students.

Twelve percent of LGB middle school students and 18 percent of LGB high school students reported they did not go to school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school compared to 6 percent of straight middle school students and 11 percent of straight high school students who reported those fears.

Twelve percent of LGB middle school students and 17 percent of LGB high school students reported being “beaten up one or more times during the 12 months before the survey compared to 7 percent of heterosexual middle school students and 13 percent of heterosexual high school students.

The difference between the two groups widens in the area of bullying, according to the survey results. Twenty-nine percent of LGB middle school students and 40 percent of LGB high school students reported they were “bullied on school property during the 12 months before the survey.” Eleven percent of straight middle school students and 18 percent of straight high school students reported similar instance of bullying on school property.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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