December 19, 2013

New Research Affirms GLSEN's Findings on Benefits of Gay-Straight-Alliances

2009 National School Climate Survey
GLSEN would like to highlight an important addition to research on LGBT youth, the new article “High School Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being”in the November Applied Developmental Science, which examines the long-term, positive impact of GSAs. 
The study titled, "High School Gay-Straight-Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being," was co-authored by Russell Toomey and Stephen T. Russel and based on data by the Family Acceptance Project. It confirms what GLSEN research has found about the positive effects of GSAs for current students, and sheds light on the ways GSAs may affect LGBT youth into adulthood.
Over a decade ago, GLSEN conducted the first national survey of LGBT students because not much other research documented the lives of LGBT youth. Although the volume of research on LGBT youth has increased since then, studies have more often examined negativefactors and risks rather than the impact of supportive resources.  
To fill this void,our biennial National School Climate Survey has continually examined the effects of school resources and supports, such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).
In our research brief Gay-Straight Alliances: Creating Safer Schools for LGBT Students and their Allies,we reported that GSAs can impact school experiences for LGBT youth in many ways. We found that LGBT students at schools with GSAs were less likely than students without a GSA to hear homophobic remarks, feel unsafe at school, miss school, and experience physical violence.They were also more likely to have supportive school staff and feel connected to their school communities.
GSAs seem to make a positive difference in the lives of LGBTyouth, but does that impact continue as they grow into adulthood? 
The new study, authored by Dr. Russell Toomey and colleagues, asked LGBT young adults in northern California to look back on their high school experiences, and found that:
LGBT young adults who went to a high school with a GSA were…
  • Less likely to have dropped out of high school
  • Less likely to experience depression
  • More likely to have attended college

Those who participated in their school’s GSA were…

  • Less likely to have abused drugs or alcohol
  • More protected against the negative mental health effects of bullying

All studies have limitations, so it is important to note that this research was limited to a relatively small number of participants from a fairly small geographic area. The research relied on participants’ memories of their high school experiences, instead of following LGBT youth as they aged. 

Still, our colleagues’ study is an exciting step forward in learning about the lasting potential benefits of supportive school resources for LGBT youth.  In the future, we hope to see national and longitudinal research on positive LGBT youth development.
Maddy Boesen

About Maddy Boesen

Maddy Boesen, M.A. is the Research Associate at GLSEN - the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

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