It better get better: Gay teens bullied by teachers, courts

(photo by ThinkStock)(photo by ThinkStock)

Bullying from peers isn't the only problem gay teens face. A new study by Yale University traced homophobic behavior to authority figures.

"Our analysis found that, consistently, gay and bisexual youth were at a greater risk of being punished by school and criminal-justice authorities than their straight peers who exhibited the same behaviors," said study leader Kathryn Himmelstein according to U.S. News and World Report.

The team of researchers analyzed the treatment of 15,000 students in both schools and courts, taking into account their sexual orientation. They found that non-heterosexual youth were up to three times more likely to be punished for criminal or school-related misdemeanors, than their heterosexual peers accused of the same misbehavior. That's not all. "Youth who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual actually engaged in less violence, which is the most serious type of misbehavior," according to Himmelstein, whose findings were published in Pediatrics.

The research suggests that students may be punished harsher, consciously or not, because of their sexual orientation. And when they are, the outcome can do long-term damage. Suspension, expulsion and state detention can all hamper, not just self-esteem, but future opportunities.

Over the past few months, the issue of sensitivity when it comes to youth and sexual orientation has broken new ground. Campaigns to increase tolerance among fellow students has been a major focus in the media. But educators and officials may be more to blame than intolerant youth. How can authority figures teach kids to be tolerant if they aren't sending the message themselves?

The excellent "It Gets Better" campaign, which has featured stars like Tim Gunn, Andy Cohen and Adam Lambert, opening up about their struggles in high school, is a revelation. Seeing adults who've overcome the worst imaginable treatment encouraging kids to hold on may help millions weather inscrutable torment. But if the torment is coming from decision-makers, those kids will need more than just a pep talk.

Related stories on Shine: