Study Shows Increased Rates of Depression and Anxiety Among LGBTQ Teenagers Experiencing Forced Outing

With more states now mandating schools to reveal the gender identity of students to their families, a recent study has established a connection between the involuntary exposure of sexual orientation or gender identity and increased rates of depression and anxiety.

A University of Connecticut investigation revealed that one-third of LGBTQ youth whose families were informed about their sexual orientation or gender identity were more prone to report severe symptoms of depression compared to those who were not exposed to this disclosure. Particularly, transgender and nonbinary youth facing such involuntarily outings noted the highest levels of depression symptoms and the least amount of family support.

The study, marking the first of its kind to link nonconsensual disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity in adolescents to poor mental health, disclosed that 69% of the affected individuals found the experience extremely distressing. Additionally, forcibly outed youth expressed low levels of family support.

Since 2022, eight states have enacted legislation mandating schools to disclose transgender students’ identities to their families, potentially impacting over 17,000 young individuals in states such as Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. While supporters argue that these measures are essential to safeguard parents’ right to be informed about their children, LGBTQ and mental health advocates claim that such laws violate students’ privacy rights and expose them to potential harm and homelessness.

Regarding the issue of forced outing, Peter McCauley, a UConn doctoral candidate, emphasized the common occurrence of this experience and the importance of individuals coming out on their own terms. The findings of the research contribute to understanding why victimized queer students in schools often avoid seeking help.

Citing research mentioned in the recent report, it was noted that 44% of LGBTQ youth refrained from reporting harassment to school authorities out of fear that their parents would discover their identity, with a significant number of sexual minority teen boys being threatened with exposure by their peers.

Utilizing data gathered from a survey of approximately 9,300 queer youth aged 13 to 17 conducted in 2017 by the Human Rights Campaign and the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, the report indicated that two-thirds of respondents identified as cisgender, of which 70% asserted that their LGBTQ status was not involuntarily disclosed to their families. However, a considerable percentage of gender-nonconforming students admitted to not being open about their identities with their families.

No significant racial differences concerning the stress of disclosure were identified in the survey. Notably, youth whose parents held postgraduate degrees exhibited fewer depressive symptoms and greater family support.

Past surveys conducted by advocacy groups such as The Trevor Project and GLSEN consistently reveal that nearly all LGBTQ youth experience harassment at school, despite many considering the school environment more supportive than their homes. The affirming nature of LGBTQ youth’s households remains low, with less than four out of ten queer youth identifying their homes as LGBTQ-friendly.

Evidence suggests that disclosing sexual and gender identities during adolescence contributes to reduced depression and enhanced life satisfaction in adulthood. However, not all teenagers reveal their identities to their families, some sharing this information with friends or trusted adults due to apprehensions arising from negative remarks made by caregivers regarding LGBTQ individuals or issues.

In addition to the states mandating outing, Florida, Arizona, Utah, Montana, and Kentucky, collectively accommodating a quarter-million LGBTQ youth, have established laws criticized for encouraging the involuntary revelation of students’ sexual orientations or gender identities, thereby risking disciplinary actions against educators and granting extensive access to mental health records.

Challenges over forced outing extend to local levels across the nation. Families in at least six states who view student privacy protections as encroaching upon parental rights have filed lawsuits against school districts, none of which have succeeded thus far.

An investigation conducted by Houston Landing discovered that within the initial two months of the enforcement of mandatory parental notification in August 2023 in Texas’ Katy Independent School District, 19 students were exposed. Following the publication of this information, the U.S. Department of Education commenced a Title IX investigation into the district’s actions, prompted by complaints from local advocates accusing discriminatory practices based on gender.

In at least six districts in California, schools are obliged to divulge various details. In January, California Attorney General Rob Bonta cautioned districts that parental notification regulations contravene the state’s constitution and educational laws, prompted by a judge’s temporary restraining order in October 2023 halting the enforcement of an outing rule in Chino.

The surge in legislation aimed at restricting LGBTQ students’ rights in state legislatures has caused a decline in the number of states fully administering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the primary national survey assessing young people’s well-being. Some states, like Florida, have ceased participation altogether, while others refuse to inquire about sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health, and suicidal tendencies.

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