Peer victimization and sexual risk differences between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning and nontransgender heterosexual youths in grades 7-12

Joseph P Robinson, Dorothy L Espelage
American Journal of Public Health 2013, 103 (10): 1810-9

OBJECTIVES: Before and after accounting for peer victimization, we estimated sexual risk disparities between students who self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) and students who self-identified as nontransgender heterosexual.

METHODS: Students in grades 7 through 12 in Dane County, Wisconsin, were given the Web-administered Dane County Youth Assessment. One set of analyses was based on a sample that included 11 337 students. Subsequent analyses were based on a sample from which we screened out students who may not have been responding to survey items truthfully. Various multilevel-modeling and propensity-score-matching strategies ensured robustness of the results, examined disparities at lower and higher victimization rates, and explored heterogeneity among LGBTQ-identified youths. Finally, propensity-score-matching strategies estimated LGBTQ-heterosexual disparities in 2 matched samples: a sample that reported higher victimization and one that reported lower victimization.

RESULTS: Across 7 sexual risk outcomes, and in middle and high school, LGBTQ-identified youths reported engaging in riskier behavior than did heterosexual-identified youths after we accounted for peer victimization. Risk differentials were present in middle and high school. The LGBTQ group was heterogeneous, with lesbian/gay- and bisexual-identified youths generally appearing most risky, and questioning-identified youths least risky. In the matched sample with lower average victimization rates, LGBTQ-identified youths perceived a greater risk of sexually transmitted infections despite not engaging in sexually risky behavior at significantly higher rates; in the matched sample with higher average victimization rates, all outcomes were significantly different.

CONCLUSIONS: Demonstrated LGBTQ-heterosexual risk differentials in grades 7 through 8 suggest that interventions need to be implemented during middle school. These interventions should also be differentiated to address the unique risk patterns among LGBTQ subgroups. Finally, models of sexual risk disparities must expand beyond peer victimization.

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