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LGBT youth who are out are happier, but still face serious obstacles

Growing up gay is not easy, for any generation.

Baby boomers and their LGBT elders, for example, lived at a time when information about LGBT issues was almost non-existent and when there were no role models on television or in popular culture. Many of them grew up not knowing another gay person in their school or community … until they moved to the big city and found a welcoming community in bars like the Stonewall Inn in New York City or The Club in San Diego.

Things began to change with the invention of cell phones, texting and the Internet, which made it much easier to connect with other members of the LGBT community.

Today’s generation of LGBT youth has experienced a much different world than their elders, and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has conducted a groundbreaking report titled “Growing Up LGBT in America” that surveyed more than 10,000 LGBT-identified young people.

What is striking about the survey is the finding that openly LGBT youth report higher levels of happiness, optimism, acceptance and support.

Nine out of 10 LGBT youth (91%) across this country are out to their close friends while youth are less likely to be out to immediate family (56%) and at school (61%), the report finds.

“The good news is that unlike previous generations, many of today’s LGBT youth have someone in their life with whom they can be themselves,” said Chad Griffin, HRC president.

“It is strikingly clear, however, that adults must do better in supporting LGBT youth who still fear family rejection, being judged and ostracized in school, rejected from their religious congregations and the broader community,” he said.

Like their elders, today’s LGBT youth who are not out often face additional stressors and are more likely to be cut off from key forms of support including adults in their family or community to talk to and support organizations at school. Half of LGBT youth, both out and not, participate in online communities that address LGBT youth issues – something not available to their elders during their teen years.

The report’s key findings include:

• Among youth who are not out to their family, the most frequent obstacle they describe is that their family is not accepting of or have a phobia against LGBT people;

• Among youth who are not out at school, the most frequent obstacle they describe is that teachers or classmates will treat them differently or judge them;

• Nearly half (47%) of LGBT youth who are not out to their immediate family say they do not have an adult in their family they could talk to if they were sad, a quarter (25%) of youth who are out say the same;

• Among religious-identified LGBT youth who attend services regularly, only 19% are out within their congregation and a mere 11% are out to their clergy

“We know that LGBT youth who are out and accepted by even a handful of close friends or family are happier, and everyone has a role in creating an environment in which youth feel safe and comfortable being themselves,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the HRC Family Project and a professional social worker.

“Today we should all consider what more we can be doing – from the conversations we have at the kitchen table or in the workplace, to comments made by national leaders in the media,” she said.

This report is the second in a series of efforts to analyze the landscape for LGBT youth, and it includes a call to action for LGBT youth, their peers, parents, teachers, elected officials and religious leaders.