Understanding Unequal Health Risks of LGBT Students

Group of Students

CDC data on the health risk behaviors and experiences among sexual minority high school students highlight the need for action to improve their health and well-being now and into adulthood.

CDC is committed to protecting and improving the health and quality of life of all youth. Sexual minority youth or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are a part of every community, every race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class, and live in all parts of the United States. While many LGBT youth thrive during adolescence, stigma, discrimination, and other factors can put them at increased risk for negative health and life outcomes. Coordinated action by families, schools, and communities can help ensure all youth are healthy and safe.

LGBT Students Experience Disparities in Health Outcomes

Some LGBT youth are at higher risk than heterosexual youth for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy, and related risk behaviors. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) shows the health disparities that exist among the 2.6 million high school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB); are not sure of their sexual identity; or who report sexual contact with persons of the same sex. YRBS results reveal that sexual minority youth experience significantly higher levels of violence in school, bullying and sexual violence, and face significantly higher risks for suicide, depression, substance use, and poor academic performance than their heterosexual peers. These findings are consistent with previous studies that show that LGBT students are at a disproportionately higher risk for negative health outcomes, including sexual behaviors, violence victimization, substance use, and suicide. These YRBS data and the Data Summary and Trends Report pdf icon[16.7 MB] are available on the Healthy Youth Web site.

LGBT youth sitting at a desk

While many LGBT youth thrive during adolescence, stigma, discrimination, and other factors can put them at increased risk for negative health and life outcomes.

What CDC Is Doing to Support the Health of LGBT Students

Comprehensive, community-wide prevention efforts can provide protection and reduce the health risks and negative experiences of LGBT students.  To thrive in their schools and communities, all students, including LGBT students, need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. CDC works with other federal agencies, national nongovernmental organizations, and departments of education and public health to support the health and well-being of LGBT students by —

  1. Developing school policies and practices that support the establishment of safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBT students.
  2. Facilitating access to health education, health services, and evidence-based interventions designed to address priority health risk behaviors and experiences among LGBT students.
  3. Implementing school-based programs and providing training for those who work with LGBT students to better understand needs and services.
  4. Summarizing and applying survey results to increase the effectiveness of interventions, policies, and programs for LGBT students.
  5. Providing funding and technical assistance to develop, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce health risk behaviors and promote healthy practices among LGBT students.
  6. Monitoring the impact of broad policy and programmatic interventions on the health-related behaviors and academic performance of LGBT students.

Families, Schools, and Communities Can Provide Support

Everyone has a role to play in helping youth become healthy adults. Connectedness – or social bonds – to peers, teachers, schools, or community organizations is key. Working together, families, schools, health and community organizations, and students can address health-related behaviors by providing sexual health education, sexual health services, and safe and supportive environments to help LGBT students thrive.

Page last reviewed: June 5, 2019