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  • Writer's pictureKevin Graham

If I’m a teenager who identifies with the LGBTQ2S+ community…

So much to say… so little time. There’s a dissertation’s worth of data on this topic coming out of our Community and Belonging Survey… and so much more necessary research as indicated by these findings. The three co-creators of this project (John Gulla, Steve Piltch, and yours truly) insisted on including the question, “Do you identify as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community?”

I can say that there are schools that declined the opportunity to participate in the survey because this question could not be removed for their students. We knew going in that this would be the case, but felt that it was important enough to ask in a 42 question survey about community and about belonging. The answers we got back have strongly confirmed our decision. More on that shortly.

For the 17,816 participating American students, at 80 schools, the answer option was simply, Yes or No. Canadian schools, numbered at 16, insisted on including the “prefer not to answer” option for the 4,481 students who completed the online form. This small difference, on its own, generated interesting distinctions.

Among American students, the “Yes” response accounted for 19.4%. Almost 5% of respondents left the question unanswered.

Among Canadian students, 10.3% said, “Yes”. 6% of respondents selected the “prefer not to answer” option and another 11.7% left the question unanswered.

Clearly, the differing answer options between the American and Canadian versions of this question create a very muddy scene for making comparisons.

7.4% of male respondents across Canadian and American schools identify with the LGBTQ2S+ community. Yet, only 3.5% of respondents who attend all-boys schools identify with this community.

24% of female respondents across Canadian and American schools identify with the LGBTQ2S+ community. 25.6% of respondents who attend all-girls schools identify with this community.

The apparent discrepancy for male respondents may be explained by one of two factors. One would be that fewer males who identify with this community attend all-boys schools. The other would be that fewer respondents in attendance at all-boys schools are comfortable declaring that they identify with this community. The latter would support the notion that the negative stigma attached to LGBTQ2S+ identity is greater for boys than for girls. This said, more research is indicated.

The ratio of female to male participants in this study who identify with the LGBTQ2S+ community is consistent with findings in other surveys (in the range of 3:1). The overall percentage identifying with this community is consistent with the upward trend line by generation (oldest to youngest) as identified in other research (reference Gallup).

For a few other measures in this survey, the spread in ratings between LGBTQ2S+ male respondents and non-LGBTQ2S+ male respondents is greater than that for female respondents. This would also support the notion of greater negative stigma for male respondents who identify with this community. Again, more research is required.

The thrust of our findings comes in the comparison of ratings between those who answered “Yes” to those who answered “No”. Throughout the survey, the differences are significant, and worrisome.

Life as a teenager, to start with, is no easy ride. If I’m a teenager who identifies with the LGBTQ2S+ community, my life is an even greater challenge. No matter which side of the border I live on, my ratings are lower, often much lower. From the compiled survey results (Canadian and American students, numbering 22,297):

  • I’m 69% more likely to sleep less than 6 hours on school nights (30.7% versus 18.2%)

  • I’m 19% more likely to spend more than 3 hours on homework each day (22.4% versus 18.9%).

  • I’m 19% more likely to spend more than 3 hours on social media each day (31.6% versus 26.5%).

  • I’m meaningfully less likely to feel:

    • respected and valued at school (3.5 versus 3.8 on the 5-point scale).

    • a strong sense of belonging at school (3.3 versus 3.7).

    • emotionally safe at school (3.3 versus 3.9).

  • I appraise myself as meaningfully lesser prepared for:

    • coping with peer pressure (3.6 versus 3.9)

    • conducting myself with confidence (3.5 versus 3.9)

    • organizing time effectively (3.2 versus 3.6)

    • handling stressful situations (3.2 versus 3.7)

    • making choices that support my emotional well-being (3.3 versus 3.8)

  • I am more than twice as likely to report that I have personally been affected by experiences of discrimination at school (39.5% versus 17.8%) and significantly more likely to report having been affected across each of eight listed types of discrimination.

While this subject matter is well outside my area of expertise, it is clear from this survey data that school communities need to advance conversation on the discrepancy in experience for students who identify as members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

With respect,

Kevin Graham


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