Toronto Public Health released data from their first ever comprehensive school-based survey (full the full Toronto Public Health Student Survey report, see here: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-76820.pdf).
I wanted to highlight some of their findings that relate to students' sexual orientation and gender:
"Students who reported their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, other, or unsure reported poorer self-rated health and were more likely to be bullied than heterosexual students."
"Sixteen percent (16%) of grade 7 to 12 students had ever tried a cigarette, and 5% of students had smoked in the last 30 days. Although these numbers indicate that tobacco use is lower than it has been in the past, it is still problematic, particularly in some specific populations of Toronto students, such as certain ethno-racial groups and students who report their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, other, or not sure."
"The Student Survey report also highlights inequities in health in the Toronto student population. For many important indicators, particularly those related to mental health, girls are faring worse than boys. Compared to boys, girls reported lower levels of self-rated health and self-esteem. Girls reported feeling “too fat” more than boys, and reported higher levels of emotional anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and having been bullied. Girls were also less likely to be physical active and more susceptible to smoking."
This study shows that students' sexual orientation and gender (identity) is related to health outcomes; students who identify as LGBTQ+ are being bullied more frequently, engage in elevated levels of substance abuse, and have lower self-esteem. We have to stop ourselves to ask - why are these trends emerging? What can we do as teachers, parents, and guardians to make our students/children feel safer and make healthier choices?
There are many different ways to navigate these issues. I think the most important first step is to have open and honest conversations with your students/children and discuss their options if they feel that they are struggling and do not know how to express their struggles in a healthy way (e.g. extra-curricular activities, therapy). This sort of conversation should not be a one-time only event, rather it should be ongoing and continuous. It may be intimidating as an adult to open up the discourse with your students/children directly; there are many movies and TV shows that discuss with these issues, and using a familiar platform like movies and television should help initiate a conversation. A couple that immediately come to mind include Degrassi and Glee. You can play a clip from an episode, or an entire episode, and have a discussion about what happened and it is likely that your students/children will make a personal connection. They may not admit it outright, but it will get them thinking and hopefully will allow them to open up to you, another trusted adult, or a friend.
Feel free to comment below if you have helped a student/child who experienced negative health outcomes because of their sexual orientation or gender.