The Latest on Gay Teens

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Recently the CDC released a report on “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance” (sounds top-secret, doesn’t it?) focused on teen sexual health.  The report zeroes in on 9th-12th-graders who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

On basically every measure the CDC evaluated, gay teens scored higher on their participation in risk behaviors (according to the report, “behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight manage­ment”) than their heterosexual peers.

In other words, these kids are at high risk for harm. “Disproportionate” risk, as the report concludes. Unfortunately, a report like this doesn’t do anything other than report on data analysis.  If we’re paying attention, we have the opportunity to consider how this kind of data might shape the way we do ministry.

Most of us who serve in youth ministry or interact with teenagers in other settings know kids who are struggling with their sexual identity.  And while we might intuitively know that this struggle can lead to experimental behaviors of various kinds, this recent study is a wake-up call that many of these kids are exposing themselves to a number of health risks.  The Marin Foundation discovered that 86% of gays and lesbians were raised in the church—meaning they are right in front of us. Age 13 is the average age for feeling same-sex attraction—again, they are right in front of us.

And while they are right in front of us, kids who wonder about their sexual identity often feel isolated.  In fact, there are probably more kids than we realize in our range of influence who are wondering right now, “Am I gay?”

FYI team member Irene Cho wrote a helpful article a couple of years ago on learning to have healthier dialogue about sexual orientation with teenagers who are questioning.  Given the CDC’s recent findings, it’s a good time to re-read those thoughts and start up some conversations.