The impact of role models on health outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth

Jason D P Bird, Lisa Kuhns, Robert Garofalo
Journal of Adolescent Health 2012, 50 (4): 353-7

PURPOSE: There is little research on the impact of role models on health outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. This exploratory study describes the presence and availability of LGBT-affirming role models, and examines the relationship between the accessibility of role models and health outcomes among a community-based sample of LGBT youth.

METHODS: A convenience sample of 496 ethnically diverse, 16-24-year-old LGBT youth was recruited to complete a computer-assisted interview, using standardized instruments validated with adolescents. The prevalence and characteristics of role models were described. Differences in subgroup distribution were assessed using Pearson χ(2) test (p < .05). Differences in health outcomes for those with and without role models and the nature of those role models were determined using analysis of covariance models, with post hoc Bonferroni tests to probe significant global findings.

RESULTS: Sixty percent of the participants reported having a role model, with younger participants significantly more likely to report having a role model. A majority of the participants reported having inaccessible role models, especially among younger participants. The presence and accessibility of a role model did not have a significant relationship to binge drinking, drug use, or sexually transmitted infection diagnoses; however, participants with inaccessible role models showed increased psychological distress versus those with accessible or no role models.

CONCLUSIONS: Inaccessible role models may not be sufficient for protecting youth from negative outcomes, and formal mechanisms for connecting LGBT youth with caring adults who can serve as role models, such as mentoring programs, are critical.

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