Citation: Rew, L., Whittaker, T.A., Taylor-Seehafer, M.A., and Smith, L.R. (2005). Sexual health risks and protective resources in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual homeless youth. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, (10)1: 11-19.
Youth who are homeless are often viewed as a homogeneous subgroup of the homeless population. This study described differences among youth who identify as gay or lesbian; bi-sexual; or heterosexual in an urban homeless youth outreach program. For example, 73% of gay and lesbian youth left home because of parental disapproval of their sexual orientation, whereas only 25.6% of bi-sexual youth left home for this reason. Thirty-one percent of heterosexual youth left home because of drug and alcohol use, whereas 26.3% of bi-sexual youth and only 6.3% of gay and lesbian youth left for this reason. More gay and lesbian youth left home due to sexual abuse, and more bi-sexual youth left due to physical abuse. Overall, females reported more emotional abuse.
The findings offer important insight for service providers when working with youth who are homeless. Findings about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and preventive health care suggest health disparities. Gay, lesbian and bi-sexual youth had higher rates of HIV and other STI, yet heterosexual youth received the highest rate of Hepatitis B immunizations. This study also looked at the assertive communication skills of these youth. Bi-sexual and heterosexual youth were more assertive than gay and lesbian youth, further illustrating that histories, risks, behaviors and skills vary among subgroups of homeless youth. What should providers do? The authors suggest some strategies for providing a detailed, nonjudgmental history and assessment that includes family and personal relationships, health beliefs, sources of support, and living situation. Providers should also be careful to use gender-neutral language and not assume heterosexuality. These basic changes in communication style may help to engage youth in safe, trusting relationships.