Establish Safe and Supportive School Environments
HIV prevention activities are more likely to have an impact if they take into account the context in which risk behaviors occur. For YMSM and other sexual minority students, this means addressing the challenges these young people face at school. A survey using a convenience sample of more than 7,000 middle and high school students across the United States found that, in the past year,
- Eight in 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students had been verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation.
- Six in 10 felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
- Almost a third skipped a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.14
For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.15,16
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) are one approach being used to create safe and welcoming school environments. Research has shown that in schools with support groups such as GSAs, lesbian, gay, and bisexual students were less likely to experience threats of violence, miss school because they felt unsafe, or attempt suicide than those in schools without such groups.1
Provide Professional Development for School Staff
School health professionals can benefit from training to help them understand the needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and shape behavioral health messages accordingly. During 2006-2011, CDC funded the American Psychological Association (APA) Healthy Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students Project to help schools and youth-serving organizations improve health and mental health outcomes for sexual minority youth. APA created a training manual and offered science-based workshops for school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers on how to effectively reach sexual minority students with HIV prevention messages and other health information. Many education agencies funded by CDC have formed their own training cadres to offer the workshop locally.
Implement School-Based HIV Prevention Policies, Practices, and Interventions
CDC funds state, territorial, tribal, and local education agencies to help schools implement policies and practices to reduce sexual risk behaviors. Recognizing that YMSM are a major risk group for HIV infection, a number of these agencies are taking action to address the needs of sexual minority youth. Examples of program activities include:
- Ensuring that health education curricula include prevention information relevant to sexual minority students.
- Providing training for district and school staff to help them understand the special concerns and needs of this population.
- Supporting schools in establishing GSAs or similar groups.
- Linking schools to community organizations that provide health and mental health services for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.
Specific program activities are described at www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm.
In 2011, CDC awarded funds to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSAN) to assist CDC-funded public health and education agencies and community-based organizations in establishing policy and environmental changes to help schools and communities meet the health and mental health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.
CDC also funds health departments and community organizations to promote the use of evidence-based HIV prevention interventions, many of which are geared toward YMSM and young people of color. Information about these interventions is available at www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/research/prs/evidence-based-interventions.htm.
* In the 37 states and five U.S. dependent areas with confidential name-based reporting since at least January 2005.
** The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors health risk behaviors and the prevalence of obesity and asthma among youth and young adults. YRBSS includes a national school-based survey conducted by CDC and surveys conducted by state, territorial, and local education and health agencies and tribal governments. Information is available at www.cdc.gov/yrbs.
† Sexual minority students are defined as students who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, bisexual, or unsure of their sexual identity or who have had sexual contact with persons of the same sex or with both males and females.
- Hall HI, Ruiguang S, Rhodes P, et al. Estimation of HIV incidence in the United States. JAMA 2008;300:520-529.
- CDC. HIV surveillance in adolescents and young adults; 2010.
- CDC. HIV surveillance in men who have sex with men; 2010.
- CDC. Prevalence and awareness of HIV Infection among men who have sex with men -- 21 cities, United States, 2008. MMWR 2010;59(37):1201-1207.
- CDC. MMWR analysis provides new details on HIV incidence in U.S. populations. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
- CDC. HIV and AIDS among gay and bisexual men; 2010.
- Resnick MD, Bearman PS, Blum RW, et al. Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997;278:823-32.
- Garafolo R, Wolf RC, Kessel S, Palfrey J, DuRant RH. The association between health risk behaviors and sexual orientation among a school-based sample of adolescents. Pediatrics 1998;101:895-902.
- Just the Facts Coalition. Just the facts about sexual orientation and youth: a primer for principals, educators, and school personnel. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2008.
- Millett G, Flores F, Peterson JL, Bakeman R. Explaining disparities in HIV infection among black and white men who have sex with men: a meta-analysis of HIV risk behaviors. AIDS 2007;21:2083-91.
- Goodenow C, Netherland J, Szalacha L. AIDS-related risk among adolescent males who have sex with males, females, or both: evidence from a statewide survey. American Journal of Public Health 2002;92:203-10.
- Robin L, Brener ND, Donahue SF, Hack T, Hale K, Goodenow C. Associations between health risk behaviors and opposite-, same-, and both-sex sexual partners in representative samples of Vermont and Massachusetts high school students. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 2002;156:349-55.
- CDC. Sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, and health-risk behaviors among students in grades 9-12 -- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, selected sites, United States, 2001-2009. MMWR Early Release 2011;60[June 6]:1-133.
- GLSEN. The 2009 National School Climate Survey. New York: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; 2010.
- Eisenberg ME, Resnick MD. Suicidality among gay, lesbian and bisexual youth: the role of protective factors. Journal of Adolescent Health 2006;39:662-668.
- Espelage DL, Aragon SR, Birkett M. Homophobic teasing, psychological outcomes, and sexual orientation among high school students: What influence do parents and schools have? School Psychology Review 2008;37:202-216.
- Goodenow C, Szalacha L, Westheimer K. School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority adolescents. Psychology in the Schools 2006;43:573-89.