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Sexual and Gender Minoritized Youth in Christian Home Schools: Perceptions of Climate and Support

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In 2014, Leelah Alcorn, a homeschooled transgender teenager in the United States, died by suicide after enduring months of social isolation and her parent’s repeated efforts to change her gender identity. Sexual and gender minoritized (SGM) youth who are, like Leelah, homeschooled in the U.S. do not have access to the institutional and relational supports afforded to SGM youth in public schools. This study examines how variations in educational setting, family support, internet access, and peer relationships influence mental health outcomes in a sample of 651 sexual and gender minoritized (SGM) young adults who were primarily homeschooled in Christian homes. Participants reported extremely high rates of mental illness (87%) suicidal ideation (72%), suicide attempts (22%) self-harm (66%), and substance abuse (29%). Regression analysis revealed that a positive family attitude toward SGM people (although rare) and access to the internet were the most significant protective factors against negative mental health outcomes in this sample. This study explores the unique vulnerabilities of SGM youth in Christian homeschool settings and has implications for educators, policy makers, health care providers, and mental health and social service professionals. To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore the experiences of homeschooled SGM youth.
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Journal of LGBT Youth
ISSN: 1936-1653 (Print) 1936-1661 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjly20
Sexual and gender minoritized youth in christian
home schools: Perceptions of climate and support
Sloan Okrey Anderson & Benjamin J. Lough
To cite this article: Sloan Okrey Anderson & Benjamin J. Lough (2019): Sexual and gender
minoritized youth in christian home schools: Perceptions of climate and support, Journal of LGBT
Youth
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19361653.2019.1700404
Published online: 17 Dec 2019.
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Sexual and gender minoritized youth in christian home
schools: Perceptions of climate and support
Sloan Okrey Anderson
a
and Benjamin J. Lough
b
a
Department of Family Social Science, University of MinnesotaTwin Cities, St. Paul, MN;
b
School of Social Work, University of IllinoisUrbana Champaign, Urbana, IL
ABSTRACT
In 2014, Leelah Alcorn, a homeschooled transgender teenager
in the United States, died by suicide after enduring months of
social isolation and her parents repeated efforts to change
her gender identity. Sexual and gender minoritized (SGM)
youth who are, like Leelah, homeschooled in the U.S. do not
have access to the institutional and relational supports
afforded to SGM youth in public schools. This study examines
how variations in educational setting, family support, internet
access, and peer relationships influence mental health out-
comes in a sample of 651 sexual and gender minoritized
(SGM) young adults who were primarily homeschooled in
Christian homes. Participants reported extremely high rates of
mental illness (87%) suicidal ideation (72%), suicide attempts
(22%) self-harm (66%), and substance abuse (29%). Regression
analysis revealed that a positive family attitude toward SGM
people (although rare) and access to the internet were the
most significant protective factors against negative mental
health outcomes in this sample. This study explores the
unique vulnerabilities of SGM youth in Christian homeschool
settings and has implications for educators, policy makers,
health care providers, and mental health and social service
professionals. To our knowledge, this is the first study to
explore the experiences of homeschooled SGM youth.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 6 December 2018
Revised 26 November 2019
Accepted 27 November 2019
KEYWORDS
LGBT youth; adolescents;
educational policy; family;
religion; homophobia;
suicide; mental health
In the United States, a growing number of children are withdrawn each
year from the public-school system and educated primarily or exclusively at
home (Noel, Stark, Redford, & Zuckerberg, 2013). Parents have a variety of
motives for choosing to homeschool, but a leading motivation for home-
schooling has always been a desire to impart Christian religious instruction
and protect children from secular influences (Cai, Reeve, & Robinson,
2002; Averett, 2016; Redford, Battle & Bielick, 2016). Although research has
begun to explore the mental health outcomes of young adults who were
raised in Christian homeschool environments (Green-Hennessy, 2014;
Vaughn et al., 2015), there has been no published academic exploration of
CONTACT Sloan Okrey Anderson and05516@umn.edu Department of Family Social Science, University of
MinnesotaTwin Cities, 1985 Buford Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108.
ß2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH
https://doi.org/10.1080/19361653.2019.1700404
these outcomes among Sexual and Gender Minoritized (SGM) young adults
from these same environments. This is a particularly relevant intersection
because research suggests that religious families are more likely to reject
their SGM children (Shilo & Savaya, 2012; Hoffarth, Hodson, & Molnar,
2018) and because SGM youth typically receive much of their identity-spe-
cific support from their schools (Hatzenbuehler, Birkett, Van Wagenen, &
Meyer, 2014). The goal of this study was to understand the experiences of
SGM youth who were raised in Christian home schools including the atti-
tudes of their families toward SGM identities, their access to potential iden-
tity-specific supports, and their mental health outcomes. Throughout this
article we use the acronym SGM(which stands for Sexual and Gender
Minoritized) as an umbrella term to refer to people who do not identify
as both cisgender and heterosexual. The participants of the sample in this
study used over 50 different identity labels including multiple monosexual,
plurisexual, and asexual labels for sexuality and multiple transgender, gen-
der non-conforming, and gender diverse labels for gender. Rather than
choosing a set of letters that might exclude or unnecessarily categorize indi-
vidual identities, we chose a phrase that centers their shared experience of
marginalization.
Minority stress in SGM youth
Regardless of where they grow up or go to school, SGM youth face identity
specific stressors as they move through the world in addition to the typical
day-to-day stressors that are also faced by their cisgender and heterosexual
peers. According to Meyers(2010) Minority Stress Theory, experiences
and anticipation of victimization, microaggressions, and discrimination,
(i.e., minority stress) contribute to a pervasive negative impact on the men-
tal and physical health of the SGM person (Mustanski, Andrews, &
Puckett, 2016; Kwon, 2013; Meyer, 2015; Testa, Habarth, Peta, Balsam, &
Bockting, 2015). SGM youth are significantly more likely to be victimized
and bullied than their heterosexual or cisgender peers (Mustanski et al.,
2016; McGuire, Anderson, Toomey, & Russell, 2010) and this victimization
is even more pervasive for SGM youth of color (Meyer, 2010; Bostwick
et al., 2014). Non-affirming religious affiliation has also been shown to con-
tribute to minority stress among SGM young people (Barnes &
Meyer, 2012).
Protective factors
The unrelenting pressure of minority stress can lead to negative mental
and physical health outcomes for SGM youth. These outcomes can include
anxiety (Hamblin & Gross, 2013), depression (Jiang, Perry, & Hesser,
2 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
2010), suicidality (Haas et al., 2010), internalized homophobia and low self-
esteem (Barnes & Meyer, 2012; Kralovec, Fartacek, Fartacek, & Pl
oderl,
2014), drug use (Shields, Whitaker, Glassman, Franks, & Howard, 2012;
Corliss, Rosario, Wypij, Wylie, Frazier, & Austin, 2010; Russell, Driscoll, &
Truong, 2002), risky sexual behavior (Bontempo & DAugelli, 2002;
Herrick, Marshal, Smith, Sucato, & Stall, 2011), and general, poor mental
health (Mustanski et al., 2016). However, according to Minority Stress
Theory, certain supports can serve as protective factors against these nega-
tive outcomes (Meyer, 2003). Meyer proposes that supportive environments
(such as supportive family, church, peer groups, etc) allow stigmatized
persons to experience social environments in which they are not stigma-
tized by others and provide support for negative evaluation of the stig-
matized minority group …” (2003, p. 677). These types of protective
factors help to relieve the impact of minority stress, thus resulting in
improved mental health outcomes. To date, research has identified a)
school support, b) peer support, c) other adult, d) online support, and e)
family support as some of the relevant protective factors for SGM youth
(Russell & Fish, 2016). These protective factors have been categorized
below based on the location in which an SGM youth might access that
type of support: school, home, and online.
School based support
SGM youth receive support and affirmation from several different sources
that are accessible through school including SGM and allied peers, formal
support groups like Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), and supportive teachers
and administrators. Schools are critical institutions that can provide access
to meaningful communities of support and connection to a wider world of
social supports and identity-specific protective factors. Although schools
can also be a site of harassment and bullying for SGM youth (Toomey,
Ryan, Diaz, & Russell, 2011) a supportive school environment has been
shown to improve several mental health outcomes for SGM youth includ-
ing reduced risk of suicidal ideation and attempts (Hatzenbuehler, Birkett,
Van Wagenen, & Meyer, 2014; Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006). A growing
number of schools provide training to personnel on SGM issues and have
programs specifically designed to meet the needs of SGM youth (Greytak,
Kosciw, & Boesen, 2013; Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, Villenas, & Danischewski,
2016). SGM students report feeling safe and connected to school personnel
in schools where the administration is active in confronting and ending
identity-specific harassment in school (McGuire et al., 2010). These sup-
portive school environments can lead to students experiencing less
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 3
psychological distress and being less likely to use alcohol (Heck, Flentje, &
Cochran, 2013).
Peer support
Formal and informal peer support are both powerful protective factors for
SGM youthand many of those peer relationships are formed in school
(Roe, 2015). Supportive peer relationships with allies and other SGM young
people can protect against negative mental health outcomes for youth expe-
riencing minority stress (Mills-Koonce, Rehder, & McCurdy, 2018). In one
study of bisexual youth, a sense of social support from peers and friends
predicted lower levels of depression, higher life satisfaction, and less iden-
tity-specific negativity (Sheets & Mohr, 2009). Formal peer support, in the
form of GSAs, also plays a role in health and wellbeing of SGM youth.
Participation in a school GSA has been associated with reduced truancy,
smoking, drinking, and attempted suicide (Poteat, Sinclair, DiGiovanni,
Koenig, & Russell, 2013). The relationships that SGM youth form in these
groups, as well as the allyship they might foster in a school environment,
can reduce the impact of minority stressors and increase wellbeing in SGM
youth (Toomey et al., 2011).
Other adult support
Having non-parent adults who are supportive and affirming can buffer the
effects of minority stress for SGM youth. In a school setting, these adults
can include teachers, school counselors, social workers and school adminis-
trators. Caring adult support both in and outside of school has been associ-
ated with fewer suicide thoughts, plans, and attempts (Coulter, Kessel
Schneider, Beadnell, & ODonnell, 2017; Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006).
Inclusive and affirming teachers are a significant protective factor against
the stress of bullying and harassment for SGM youth, and contribute to a
greater sense of belonging (Murdock & Bolch, 2005). This support can be
especially beneficial if SGM youth can build relationships with adults who
are also within the SGM community. One study found that youth who
have support from adults in the SGM community are less likely to engage
in risky sexual behavior or to use illicit drugs (Wright & Perry, 2006).
This body of research demonstrates that for SGM youth: a supportive
school environment that includes formal and informal peer relationships,
and supportive non-parental adult relationships is a significant potential
protective factor against the negative mental health impact of minority
stress. If an SGM youth is enrolled in a public school, they have the option
to access these resources regardless of whether or not their family is sup-
portive of their identity. Conversely, an SGM youth who is homeschooled
4 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
is completely beholden to the choices and beliefs of their family. Even if
opportunities for support and peer relationships exist outside of a school
setting, those supports are only accessible for youth whose families will
support their participation. Homeschooled SGM youth from Christian fam-
ilies, like the sample in this study, may have extremely limited access to
peer and other adult support as a result of their unique positionality.
Online support
Access to the internet opens up a whole new world of resources, supports,
and connections for SGM youth. SGM youth use the internet to make
friends, explore their identities, find local resources, and even fill in the
gaps left by a cisheterosexist sexual health curriculum (DeHaan, Kuper,
Magee, Bigelow, & Mustanski, 2013). Although in-person friendships are
more likely to protect against victimization, online friendships provide
essential identity-specific peer support for SGM youth (Ybarra, Mitchell,
Palmer, & Reisner, 2015). SGM youth use the internet to find help, advice,
support, and friendshipespecially when those needs are not being met in
their physical worlds (Cipolletta, Votadoro, & Faccio, 2017). Even in the
absence of in-person supports and friendships, homeschooled SGM youth
may be able to access resources, peer supports, and community through
the internet. Participants in this study ranged from age 18 to 47 at the time
of the survey. Consequently, access to the internet at home varied widely
from person to person. Not every family had a computer in the home, and
even when they didnot every family allowed unmonitored internet access.
For homeschooled SGM youth in Christian homes, the internet might be
among the only possible opportunities to receive identity-specific informa-
tion, resources, and support outside the context of their families.
Home based support
The last two decades of research with SGM youth has demonstrated that
support, affirmation, and advocacy from parents and family are essential to
the development and wellbeing of SGM youth (Mills-Koonce, Rehder, &
McCurdy, 2018). Above and beyond other types of support (i.e., peer sup-
port and significant other support), support from families has been associ-
ated with lower levels of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, suicidality
(McConnell, Birkett, & Mustanski, 2015). Identity-specific family support
actively reduces the impact of minority stressors such as discrimination
(Mustanski, Newcomb, & Garofalo, 2011) and can lead to better physical
and mental health, greater self-esteem, and lower risk of depression, sui-
cidal thoughts and behaviors, and substance abuse (Ryan, Russell, Huebner,
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 5
Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). While family support and affirmation have a posi-
tive impact on SGM youth, family rejection or lack of support have a recip-
rocal negative effect. Family rejection can contribute to internalized
homophobia and a negative sense of identity (Willoughby, Doty, & Malik,
2010). It has also been found to be predictive of increased psychological
symptoms including depression, anxiety, and somatization in SGM young
adults (Kibrik et al., 2018).
This literature clearly demonstrates that proactive, identity specific sup-
port from family has a powerful impact on SGM youth. It serves as a pro-
tective factor against myriad negative mental health outcomes, improves
self-esteem, and reduces internalized homophobia. A supportive school
environment, material and digital communities, family, and non-parent
adults are all significant protective factors for SGM youth; but for home-
schooled SGM youth, family may be the only accessible potential protective
factor. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the majority of
homeschooling families are highly religious (Cooper & Sureau, 2007).
Homeschooling families that ascribe to religious ideologies that do not
affirm sexual and gender minoritized identities may pose unique risks for
SGM youth, as these youth will not have access to protective supports out-
side of the home that other SGM youth in public or private school envi-
ronments might have to buffer the negative impact of a
disaffirming family.
Christianity and SGM identity
The sample in this study is comprised entirely of homeschooling families
that identify as Christian. Consequently, an investigation of the intersection
between SGM identities and Christianity is critical for understanding the
study sample, as well as for interpreting findings from this study. As a
result of unrestrictive government oversight of homeschooling practices,
there are no concrete statistics on the demographics of homeschooling fam-
ilies (Huseman, 2015). However, it is commonly suggested that around
75% of homeschooling families in the United States identify as evangelical
Christians (Cooper & Sureau, 2007). Although somewhat dated, a study of
parental motivation conducted in 2001 also indicated that around 75% of
homeschool educators identified as conservative Christians who stress bib-
lical education as a core piece of their curriculum (Cai, Reeve, & Robinson,
2002). A more recent doctoral dissertation study reflected these findings by
showing that the religious and politically conservative homeschooling
parents that made up half (50%) of the sample (n¼335) were statistically
more likely to endorse religious education as their primary motivation for
6 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
homeschooling than their non-religious or politically moderate/liberal peers
(Averett, 2016).
Religion, across cultures and contexts, is one of the primary contributors
to anti-LGBT sentiment (Hoffarth, Hodson, & Molnar, 2018). Across all
religions in the United States, only 23% of people who attend religious
services at least once a week believe that homosexuality should be accepted
(Pew Research Center, 2014). This research suggests that for many home-
schooled SGM youth, receiving identity-specific support from family mem-
bers may not be an option. Without access to school, it is possible that
homeschooled SGM youth could have limited access to peer support, other
adult support, and school-based supports such as GSAs and school counse-
lors. This body of research begs the following questions: 1). Do home-
schooled SGM youth have access to the essential, identity specific supports
they need to protect them from the negative impact of minority stress? 2.)
How does access to support (or lack thereof) impact the mental health out-
comes of homeschooled SGM youth?
Research aims
Although previous research illustrates many of the negative experiences
faced by SGM youth, it has not examined the experiences of SGM youth
educated outside of a traditional schooling context. As a first step to fill
this gap, this study seeks to describe the prevalence of SGM youth in
Christian home schools and assess family-based attitudes toward SGM
youth. It further aims to assess the degree to which these youth have access
to protective factors that may help to moderate the deleterious effects of
minority stress on their mental health. Reports by youth of mental illness,
suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, substance abuse or self-harm are all
indications of poorer mental health as defined in this analysis. Based on
previous empirical findings of social supports for SGM youth in conjunc-
tion with Minority Stress Theory, we hypothesized that the protective fac-
tors of having: (a) supportive family attitudes, (b) non-sibling friends, (c)
internet access, and (d) available supports of multiple school settings,
would all protect against poor mental health outcomes.
Methods
Design and sample
Data for this secondary data analysis were extracted from the 2014 Survey
of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement which
was written and disseminated by the Homeschool Alumni Reach Out
(HARO). HARO is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to advocate for
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 7
the wellbeing of homeschool students and improve homeschooling com-
munities through awareness, peer support, and resource development
(HARO, 2016, Mission and Vision, para. 2). During the fall of 2015, HARO
surveyed homeschooled alumni aged 18 and older who had been home-
schooled for at least seven years. The survey was first promoted through an
online homeschool alumni community, from which it snowballed across
the country through online social networks (primarily Facebook). Survey
respondents were required to affirm that they were homeschooled in an
environment which was classifiable as Christian (including Christian-influ-
enced new religious movements), and were completing the survey for the
first time. The survey was fully anonymous and participants reviewed and
endorsed an informed consent page at the beginning of the survey.
Participants were not offered any compensation for their participation. The
authors requested and received access to the de-identified survey data via a
data-sharing agreement with HARO. The authors obtained approval from
the University Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct secondary ana-
lysis on these data.In total, 6,249 individuals began the survey and 3,703
adult alumni completed it. Only completed responses were included in the
HARO dataset.
Table 1. Demographic data of the sample.
Full sample (n¼3703) SGM subsample (n¼651)
Frequency Percent Frequency Percent
Sex assigned at birth
Male 981 26.5% 137 21.0%
Female 2715 73.3% 508 78.0%
Other 7 0.2% 6 0.9%
Racial/ethnic heritage (select all that apply)
White/Caucasian 3424 92.5% 590 90.6%
Black/African American 31 0.8% 7 1.1%
Latino/Hispanic American 146 3.9% 40 6.1%
East Asian/Asian American 76 2.1% 6 0.9%
South Asian/Indian American 13 0.4% 1 0.2%
Middle Eastern/Arab American 22 0.6% 6 0.9%
Native American/Alaskan Native 148 4.0% 28 4.3%
Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 19 0.5% 3 0.5%
Sexual orientation (select all that apply)
Heterosexual/straight 3137 84.7% 85 13.1%
Bisexual 350 9.5% 350 53.8%
Pansexual 90 2.4% 90 13.8%
Gay 60 1.6% 60 9.2%
Lesbian 54 1.5% 54 8.3%
Asexual 96 2.6% 96 14.7%
Gender identity
Cisgender 3618 97.7% 566 86.9%
Transgender (nonbinary, genderfluid, etc) 85 2.3% 85 13.1%
Numbers may not total 100% due to rounding.
With equal frequencies in the heterosexuals and transgender categories, it might appear that all transgender
participants identified as heterosexual. In reality, participants selected multiple options for sexual orientation,
(e.g., someone might identify as asexual and gay, etc). Thus, equal frequencies in these categories is a
coincidence.
8 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
Sample
The subsample used in the analysis consisted of 651 homeschool alumni
(15% of the overall sample) who were identified as Sexual and/or Gender
Minoritized individuals. Participants were asked to endorse a sexual orienta-
tion (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or asexual) or write in their
own response. Additionally, participants were asked to identify their assigned
sex and then given the option to write in their gender. Any participant who
indicated a sexual orientation or gender other than cisgender and heterosex-
ual was included in the subsample. There were over 50 different identity
labels and combinations of labels in this subsample. The subsample used for
this study was over half (56%) homeschooled for 12 years or more, mostly
white (90%), mostly assigned female at birth (78%), and mostly cisgender
(92%). Participants ranged in age from 19 to 47 (m¼27). Participants indi-
cated their racial and/or ethic affiliation by endorsing one or more of the
provided options (White, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, East
Asian, South Asian or Indian, Arab or North African, Indigenous or Native
American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander) and/or writing in additional informa-
tion. All participants were homeschooled at least partially in the United
States. Table 1 displays the demographic data of the full- and sub-sample.
Analysis
A set of five multivariate logistic regression analyses examined the relation-
ships between five self-reported binomial mental health: outcomes (a) men-
tal illness, (b) suicidal thoughts, (c) suicide attempts, (d) substance abuse,
and (e) self-harm;, along with key independent variables hypothesized to
influence these mental health outcomes: (a) family attitudes toward sexual
and gender minoritized (SGM) people, (b) educational supplementation, (c)
internet access, and (d)non-sibling friendships during childhood and
adolescence.
Mental health
All five mental health outcomes were self-reported. Survey participants
were asked respectively: have you ever suffered from a mental illness?
have you ever struggled with suicidal thoughts?”“have you have attempted
suicide?”“have you ever struggled with any form of self-injury?and have
you ever struggled with substance abuse? (In this context, substance abuse
means that you personally believe or feel that you used the substance in an
unhealthy way or developed an addiction that you consider(ed)
unhealthy).Results were coded as No(0) and Yes(1). After selecting
yes, participants were given the option to further specify the nature and
severity of their experiences.
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 9
Protective factors
Potential protective factors (independent variables) were also coded into
binomial responses. When survey participants were asked to report on their
school settings, answer choices included ordinal responses: homeschooled
only, part-time public school, part-time private school, full-time public
school, and full-time private school.Results were recoded as homeschooled
only (0) and multiple school settings (1). Survey participants were also asked
to rate on a five point scale the attitudes of their family toward SGM people
during when they were still living in the home. Answer options were recoded
as negative or very negative(0) and neutral or positive(1). Answer
options asking whether the respondents had friends other than their siblings
while growing up were coded No(0) and Yes(1). Sex assigned at birth
was coded as male (0) or female (1). Finally, survey participants were asked
to report whether or not they had access to the internet during their child-
hood or adolescence. Answer options were coded No(0) and Yes(1).
Results
The results of the analysis show that SGM youth in the sample experienced
a variety of mental health challenges, and had limited access to many of
the predicted protective factors.
Mental health outcomes
Findings indicate that, similar to their SGM peers in traditional school set-
tings (Mustanski et al., 2016; McGuire et al., 2010), SGM youth in home
schools reported the following indicators of poor mental health: mental ill-
ness, suicidal ideations and attempts, substance abuse, and self-harm. In
this study, 72% of participants reported suicidal thoughts and 22% had
attempted suicide. Sixty percent of participants had engaged in self-harm-
ing behaviors and 29% reported having struggled with some kind of sub-
stance abuse. Overall, 87% of participants reported that have had a mental
illness at some point in their lifetime.
Risk and protective factors
Multiple school settings
More than half (51%) of SGM youth reported having multiple school set-
tings throughout their education (i.e., they were not exclusively home-
schooled). Multiple school settings was significantly associated with four
outcomes: increased mental illness (B ¼.89, Wald v
2
¼8.18, p<.01),
attempted suicide (B ¼.53, Wald v
2
¼4.80, p<.05), suicidal thoughts (B
10 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
¼.50, Wald v
2
¼4.92, p<.05), and self-harm (B ¼.52, Wald v
2
¼6.12,
p<.01).
Family attitudes toward SGM people
The vast majority of youth (90%) reported that their family had negative or
very negative attitudes toward SGM people during the time that they lived
in the home. This is an important statistic because a positive family attitude
toward SGM people was significantly associated with four outcomes:
decreased mental illness (B ¼1.12, Wald v
2
¼11.76, p<.01), decreased
suicidal thoughts (B ¼1.24, Wald v
2
¼19.94, p<.01), decreased sub-
stance abuse (B ¼1.36, Wald v
2
¼10.58, p<.01), and decreased self-
harm (B ¼.97, Wald v
2
¼1.80, p<.01). A negative family attitude
toward SGM people also trended toward significance in predicting
attempted suicide (B ¼.68, Wald v
2
¼2.98, p<.10).
Internet access
Ninety-eight participants (15%) reported that they had no access to the
internet during their childhood or adolescence. Access to the internet was
significantly associated with decreased mental illness (B ¼1.06, Wald v
2
¼4.62, p<.05). Access to the internet also trended toward significance in
decreasing attempted suicide (B ¼.48, Wald v
2
¼3.53, p<.10) and sui-
cidal thoughts (B ¼.57, Wald v
2
¼3.66, p<.10).
Non-sibling friends
Although 48 participants (7%) reported having no friends other than their
siblings during the time they lived in their parents home, lack of non-sibling
friends was not significantly associated with any mental health outcome.
Control and demographic variables
Gender and assigned sex
The majority of participants (78%) were assigned female at birth. Being assigned
female at birth was significantly associated with two outcomes: higher mental
illness (B ¼.65, Wald v
2
¼6.03, p<.01), and self-harm (B ¼.91, Wald v
2
¼
20.70, p<.01). The sample included 85 transgender participants (8%) but
transgender identity was not significantly associated with any outcome.
Race: Non-hispanic white
The majority (90.6%) of participants identified their race/ethnicity to be
non-Hispanic White. Being non-Hispanic white was significantly associated
with higher mental illness (B ¼.87, Wald v
2
¼5.87, p<.05).
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 11
Table 2. Results of multivariate regressions on negative mental health outcomes.
Mental illness Attempted suicide Suicidal thoughts Substance abuse Self-harm
B Wald pB Wald pB Wald pB Wald pB Wald p
Sex at birth (Female) .65 6.03 .01 .14 .32 .57 .24 1.30 .26 .35 2.79 .10 .91 20.70 .001
Race (White) .875.87 .02 .09 .08 .78 .25 .66 .42 .39 1.65 .19 .33 1.16 .28
Years of homeschool .08 1.14 .29 .03 .30 .59 .04 .48 .49 .02 .12 .73 .093.70 .05
School settings (multiple) .89 8.18 .004 .534.80 .03 .504.92 .03 .417 3.57 .06 .52 6.12 .01
Non-sibling friends .14 .06 .81 .49 2.16 .14 .28 .51 .47 .37 1.27 .26 .32 .93 .33
Internet access 1.064.62 .03 .48 3.53 .06 .57 3.66 .06 .00 .00 .99 .06 .06 .81
Positive family attitudes 1.12 11.76 .001 .68 2.98 .09 1.24 19.94 .001 1.36 10.58 .001 .79 8.16 .004
Constant .59 .29 .59 1.02 1.61 .21 .76 .91 .34 .12 .02 .88 .97 1.80 .18
p<.05,
p<.01.
12 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
Number of years homeschooled
Over half (56%) of participants reported being homeschooled for 12 or
more years. Although years homeschooled was only included in the model
as a control variable, increased number of years homeschooled was signifi-
cantly associated with self-harm (B ¼.09, Wald v
2
¼3.70, p<.05). For a
summary of results, see Table 2.
Discussion
This study takes a deeper look at mental health among a select group of
SGM youth- those who were homeschooled as part of a Christian philoso-
phy of upbringing. By examining within-group variability, we are able to
look at the distinct factors that may contribute to comparatively worse
mental health within a context that is overwhelmingly non-affirming of
SGM adolescent identities. Consistent with Meyers Minority Stress Theory
(2003), this study confirmed the importance of positive family attitudes
toward SGM people and internet access (which can provide access to
online communities) as protective factors for the mental health of SGM
youth in Christian home schools.
Family support
Perhaps the most significant result of this study are the findings linking
family attitudes to mental health outcomes. In this study, 90% of partici-
pants reported that the family attitude toward SGM people in their homes
during childhood and adolescence was either negative or very negative.
This represents a significant difference from normative attitudes toward
SGM people in the United States. Data from the Pew Research Center
(2015) show that 57% of American parents report that they would not be
upsetif their child came out to them as a sexual minority. Even in the
most socially conservative religious segments of American society, 25% of
White Evangelical Protestants see no conflict between religion and LGBT
identities (Pew Research Center, 2015).
The disparity between attitudes toward SGM people in Christian home-
school families in this study (90% negative) and comparable attitudes in
other types of American families (43% negative) is striking. The literature
on SGM youth definitively shows that a supportive home environment is a
major contributor to the mental and physical health of SGM youth. The
results of this study suggest that SGM youth in Christian home schools are
at a greater risk for poor mental health outcomes as a result of greater
negativity toward SGM people in their homes and families.
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 13
Internet access
The second finding of significance in this study is the association between lack
of internet access and poor mental health. Internet access appeared to be a sig-
nificant protective factor for the mental health of homeschooled SGM youth.
This finding suggests that, in the absence of in-person peers and school-based
supports, access to internet resources and communities becomes even more
essential. SGM youth in home schools without access to the internet are at an
even greater risk of mental illness. While the majority of participants had at
least some access to the internet, a sizeable 15% did not.
Multiple school settings
One hypothesized protective factor actually emerged as a negative stressor
in this study. Multiple school settings predicted worse mental health,
increased suicide attempts, and intensified substance abuse. Three plausible
explanations may help to clarify this result: First, school mobility (changing
school settings) may be a confounding factor because it is a known stressor
for children and adolescents (Gasper, DeLuca, & Estacion, 2010). As a
stressor, school mobility can result in myriad negative mental health out-
comes (Winsper, Wolke, Bryson, Thompson, & Singh, 2016). It is possible
that this could explain some of the variation in mental health outcomes.
Second, although much of the literature identifies school programs and
personnel as protective factors for SGM youth, it also identifies school as a
source of stress and victimization for those same youth. Much of the bully-
ing and discrimination SGM youth experience happens at school. It is pos-
sible that some of this result could be explained by the possibility that
SGM youth who did not attend schools were not exposed to the victimiza-
tion and negativity frequently present in school settings. Lastly, it is also
possible that the negative mental health outcomes are the result of leaving
public/private school in order to enter home school, rather than being the
result of affiliation with a school.
About half (51%) of participants reported having attended public or pri-
vate school full or part time at some point during their primary or second-
ary education. The data were not clear on the order or duration of the
participantsschool settings. It is possible that many of the participants
attended school and then were taken out to be homeschooled by parents.
However, if any of the participants attended public or private school during
or after the time they were being homeschooled, they may have had access
to school counselors, social workers and other school support staff. This
has important implications for school personnel who need to be aware of
the increased risk factors faced by homeschooled SGM youth. An under-
standing of this populations specific needs will help school personnel to
14 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
better serve homeschooled SGM youth. Further research should examine
the relationship between school settings and mental health outcomes for
homeschooled SGM youth. Although the relationship between various pro-
tective factors and improved mental health outcomes were significant in
this study, it is not possible to understand the implications of this relation-
ship in depth without further research.
Gender
Female assigned sex was significantly associated with mental illness and
self-harm. This is consistent with national population statistics which indi-
cate that women are over-represented in every category of mental illness in
the United States (Weissman, Pratt, Miller, & Parker, 2015). However, it is
also potentially relevant that women in religiously fundamentalist contexts
are typically subject to greater social restriction and punishment than their
male counterparts (Pearce & Thornton, 2007). Gendered religious ideology
might contribute to greater religious ambivalence which could potentially
impact mental health outcomes (Bulanda, 2011). Future research should
examine the potential impact of religious gender roles on the lives of young
women who are homeschooled.
Although this sample had 85 transgender participants (8%), there were
no significant findings for this population when examined independently.
This phenomenon is a result of extremely limited variability within the
transgender sub sample. The most significant predictor of mental health in
this sample was family attitudes toward SGM identity. In the transgender
subsample, only two participants (2%) reported that their families had neu-
tral or positive attitudes toward SGM identitiesas opposed to 10% in the
SGM sample as a whole. This floor effect eliminated the possibility to stat-
istically test for differences within the transgender subsample.
Limitations
The survey was distributed via social media, which limited control over
survey distribution and likely created a sampling and response bias. Only
individuals with access to the internet and a social media presence would
have had access to the survey. In addition, all data are based on self-report,
which could limit the validity and integrity of reported outcomes. Another
possible limitation is that nearly 8 out of 10 survey participants were
female. Because the population demographics are impossible to fully know,
and some known groups appear to be underrepresented, this likely results
in a somewhat skewed narrative of homeschooling and its effect on sexual
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 15
minority youth. Future research on this population may need to employ
quota sampling in order to obtain a race and gender diverse sample.
Research on children and adolescents in home schools is challenging for
several reasons. A number of U.S. states, including Texas (which has the
largest proportion of homeschooling families), do not require parents to
notify the school district when they homeschool their children (Huseman,
2015). In addition, only 13 of 50 states require any kind of academic testing
for homeschool children (Huseman, 2015). Loose regulations like these
mean that there are few reliable points of contact with homeschoolers,
making research very challenging. Therefore, although a survey distributed
via social media has its challenges, it allows researchers to start investigat-
ing questions that have long been under-researched due to complications
of access to a hard-to-reach population. These findings represent a founda-
tion upon which future research can build.
Implications
For SGM youth who receive their education at home, support from family,
peers, and other adults are vital for their mental health. Given the methodo-
logical challenges associated with the data that inform these findings, more
robust research is required to bring to light the specific challenges facing this
hard-to-reach but previously invisible population, along with the protective
strategies that can be employed to help them along their journey.
Practice implications
SGM youth in Christian homeschools report extremely high levels of
mental illness, suicidal ideation/attempts, self-harm, and substance abuse.
This finding suggests clear implications for mental health providers,
health care providers, educators, and any other professional who might
come into contact with homeschooled SGM youth. Professional know-
ledge of this uniquely vulnerable population could lead to better and
more thorough mental health screening at annual doctor visits, educa-
tional progress evaluations, or any other points of contact between home-
schooling families and the outside world. This study also found that
among homeschooled SGM youth in Christian families, supportive family
attitudes toward identity is the strongest predictor of reduced mental
health symptoms. Thus, efforts to remove negativity around SGM identi-
ties within homeschool networks environments may help to mitigate the
risk for young people. Finally, internet access was shown to protect
against negative mental health outcomes for SGM youth in homeschools.
Public libraries and homeschool cooperative groups should make an
16 S. O. ANDERSON AND B. J. LOUGH
effort to provide internet access for homeschooled youth. This access
could be an essential protective factor for SGM youth who are seeking
community, support, and education.
Research implications
In this study, the experience of multiple school settings was the strongest
predictor of increased mental health symptoms, when all else was held con-
stant. Because the types of school transitions in this sample were not clear,
these findings require further exploration in additional studies to fully
interpret. Research with adolescents who are currently being homeschooled
may require creative recruitment strategies. Because most of the partici-
pants in this study reported having internet access while they were still
being homeschooled, recruitment through the internet might be the most
effective method. However, future researchers should consider quota sam-
pling in order to collect a diverse and representative sample.
Policy implications
This highly vulnerable population exists almost entirely outside of the
social safety nets created to protect SGM youth. Therapists, teachers, doc-
tors, social workers, and other professionals who might be trained to recog-
nize and address distress in adolescents cannot perform this essential role if
they never come into contact with these youth. State and federal policies
that govern the oversight of homeschooling in the United States should be
expanded to consider mental health. Currently, the majority of home-
schooled youth in the U.S. have no mandatory point of contact with any
persons or institutions outside of their own homes. This study demon-
strates that isolation could be dangerous to SGM youth in homeschools
and supports a more proactive approach to homeschool oversight.
Notes on contributors
Sloan Okrey Anderson received both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in
Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. They
are currently working towards their PhD at the University of Minnesota
Twin Cities in the Department of Family Social Science. Sloan studies the
many intersections of LGBT identity and family religiosity with a specific
focus on Christianity.
JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 17
Prof. Benjamin Lough earned his BS in Sociology in 2000 and his MSW
in 2003 from Brigham Young University, and his PhD in 2010 from the
Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Lough has
extensive international research and practice experience, having worked as
a Senior Researcher and Resident Consultant to the United Nations in
Germany, a Foreign Expert in the Peoples Republic of China, an inde-
pendent consultant to the Department of Human and Social Services of
American Samoa, and program evaluator for the Foundation for
International and Community Assistance in Armenia and the Republic of Georgia. In add-
ition to considerable research and teaching experience, Dr. Lough also worked as a clinical
social worker.
ORCID
Sloan Okrey Anderson http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3520-1633
Benjamin J. Lough http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8106-9207
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JOURNAL OF LGBT YOUTH 21
... Given the above findings, it is not surprising that a limited body of quantitative inquiry included for analysis revealed the potential salience of unconventional and arguably under-examined sources of support, often originating within trans communities, in mitigating suicide risk among trans persons (Anderson and Lough, 2019;Jones and Hillier, 2013). The results of one study (Anderson and Lough, 2019), for example, indicated that although access to non-sibling friends was not associated with any mental health outcomes in a sample of home-schooled trans-identified youth, access to the internet was related to a decrease in attempted suicide and suicidal ideation (p < .10). ...
... Given the above findings, it is not surprising that a limited body of quantitative inquiry included for analysis revealed the potential salience of unconventional and arguably under-examined sources of support, often originating within trans communities, in mitigating suicide risk among trans persons (Anderson and Lough, 2019;Jones and Hillier, 2013). The results of one study (Anderson and Lough, 2019), for example, indicated that although access to non-sibling friends was not associated with any mental health outcomes in a sample of home-schooled trans-identified youth, access to the internet was related to a decrease in attempted suicide and suicidal ideation (p < .10). The findings of this study may be expected when considering, within the qualitative literature, the prominence of online support provided by trans peers in mitigating suicide risk among trans people (Moody et al., 2015;Selkie et al., 2019). ...
... The findings above, while primarily reflected in the qualitative scholarship, were indirectly supported by some of the contributions of the quantitative literature (Anderson and Lough, 2019;Trujillo et al., 2017). For example, Anderson and Lough (2019) found that although access to non-sibling friends was not associated with a decrease in suicidal thoughts or behavior in their study of home-schooled trans youth, access to the internet was found to be a protective factor against both of these mental health outcomes. ...
Article
Rationale There is a growing body of research involving transgender (trans) individuals that foregrounds elevated rates of suicidality in trans populations. Although peer support is increasingly studied as a protective factor against suicide among trans persons, the scholarship in this area continues to be limited and has yet to be synthesized and appraised. Objective In this paper, we address this existing gap in the literature by presenting the results of a scoping review of the literature examining the significance and function of peer support in mitigating suicide risk in trans populations. Methods This scoping review is based on an analysis of 34 studies that were included following the execution of a methodical search and selection process. Drawing on scoping review methodology, along with PRISMA-P guidelines, we selected peer-reviewed empirical works, published between 2000 and 2020, which examined relationships between providing, seeking, and/or receiving peer support and suicide risk in trans populations. Results Our findings, which are conceptualized using the minority stress model as a guiding theoretical framework, reveal that while the literature generally substantiates the protective significance of peer support for trans persons, a small body of work also uncovers novel and unanticipated sources of peer support, including social support offered by trans peers online, which are infrequently and inconsistently examined in this body of scholarship. Conclusions Using our appraisal of the literature, we outline the need for future research to further elucidate the significance and function of peer support in protecting against suicide among trans persons. In particular, we discuss the need for exploratory inquiry to inform a conceptualization and operationalization of peer support that more fully and consistently accounts for how such support (including online and community-based support) is sought, received, and experienced among trans persons in the context of suicide.
Article
The Parental Acceptance and Rejection of Sexual Orientation Scale was administered to 256 self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer adults who had been out of the closet to their parents for at least 1 year. Principal component analysis revealed a clear two-component solution: parental acceptance and parental rejection. Findings showed that perceived maternal sexual orientation-specific acceptance was higher, and perceived maternal sexual orientation-specific rejection was lower, for gay/bisexual sons compared to their lesbian/bisexual daughters. Results of regression analyses suggest that both perceived sexual orientation specific acceptance and rejection predicted adult children’s psychological symptoms after accounting for perceived global parental acceptance and rejection and the child’s gender. The scale’s utility for research and practice are noted.
Article
Adolescents in 21st century America are experiencing the emergence of their sexual and gender identities in a heteronormative society that is steadily adopting more progressive views and policies related to sexual orientation and gender. However, despite these sociocultural changes, parent–child relationships remain as one of the strongest predictors of LGBT adolescent adjustment. This article reviews the extant literature on this topic from family systems and attachment perspectives while highlighting the significance of family experiences within a minority stress framework. The presentation is oriented around the coming out process, including factors influencing this experience and how postdisclosure parenting affects the health and well‐being of LGBT adolescents. We end by discussing future directions and the challenges inherent to this research.
Article
This study sought to understand the extent to which elementary or middle school mobility was associated with adverse middle school academic achievement and mental health and whether youth or contextual characteristics moderated associations. I contrasted elementary and middle school mobility to consider whether a recent school move or elementary school move mattered for current adjustment and achievement. Using a diverse sample of youth from a mid-sized urban school district (N = 1,651), results from propensity score weighted regression models indicated that middle school but not elementary school mobility was associated with deficits in achievement and mental health. Results differed notably for girls and boys. Girls who changed schools demonstrated more depressive symptoms and had lower achievement than similar girls who did not. Moderated effects were also evident by receipt of free or reduced price lunch. Results are discussed in terms of future research and school policies to support mobile youth.
Article
This study examined sexual-orientation differences in reports of outside- and within-school adult support, and whether sexual orientation moderates the associations between adult support and suicidality (i.e., thoughts, plans, and attempts). At 26 high schools across MetroWest Boston, 22,834 students completed surveys assessing: sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay/lesbian, bisexual, or questioning); presence of outside- and within-school adult support; and past-year suicidality. Multivariable regression analyses with General Estimating Equations (adjusting for gender, grade, and race/ethnicity) examined sexual-orientation subgroup differences in adult support, and how sexual orientation and adult support were associated with suicidality. Interaction terms tested whether relationships between adult support and suicidality were moderated by sexual orientation. Gay/lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth were each less likely than heterosexuals to report having outside-school adult support (risk ratios range: 0.85–0.89). Each group also had greater odds than heterosexuals for suicidal thoughts (odds ratios [ORs] range: 1.86–5.33), plans (ORs range: 2.15–5.22), and attempts (ORs range: 1.98–7.90). Averaged across sexual-orientation subgroups, outside-school support was more protective against suicidality (ORs range: 0.34–0.35) than within-school support (ORs range: 0.78–0.82). However, sexual orientation moderated the protective effects of outside-school adult support, with support being less protective for bisexual and questioning youth than for heterosexuals. Adult support, and particularly outside-school adult support, is associated with lower suicidality. However, fewer gay/lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth can rely on outside-school support and, even if present, it may be less protective against suicidality. Interventions are needed to help adults support gay/lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth and reduce suicidality disparities.
Article
Objectives: To examine the effects of the cumulative victimization experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths on mental disorders. Methods: We recruited 248 participants from the Chicago, Illinois, area in 7 waves of data collected over 4 years, beginning in 2007 (83.1% retention rate). Mean age at enrollment was 18.7 years, and 54.7% were Black. We measured depression and posttraumatic stress disorder using structured psychiatric interviews. Results: Latent class analyses of victimization over time identified a 4-class solution. Class 1 (65.4%) had low, decreasing victimization. Class 2 (10.3%) had moderate, increasing victimization. Class 3 (5.1%) had high, steady victimization. Class 4 (19.2%) had high, decreasing victimization. Controlling for baseline diagnoses and birth sex, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths in classes 2 and 3 were at higher risk for depression than were those in class 1; youths in classes 2, 3, and 4 were at elevated risk for posttraumatic stress disorder. Conclusions: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths with steadily high or increasing levels of victimization from adolescence to early adulthood are at higher risk for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print January 21, 2016: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302976).
Article
Today's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth come out at younger ages, and public support for LGBT issues has dramatically increased, so why do LGBT youth continue to be at high risk for compromised mental health? We provide an overview of the contemporary context for LGBT youth, followed by a review of current science on LGBT youth mental health. Research in the past decade has identified risk and protective factors for mental health, which point to promising directions for prevention, intervention, and treatment. Legal and policy successes have set the stage for advances in programs and practices that may foster LGBT youth mental health. Implications for clinical care are discussed, and important areas for new research and practice are identified. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology Volume 12 is March 28, 2016. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.
Article
Research in various populations has shown that, starting early in childhood, individuals often demonstrate resilience in the face of stress and adversity. Against the experience of minority stress, LGBT people mount coping responses and most survive and even thrive despite stress. But research on resilience in LGBT populations has lagged. In this commentary, I address 2 broad issues that I have found wanting of special exploration in LGBT research on resilience: First, I note that resilience, like coping, is inherently related to minority stress in that it is an element of the stress model. Understanding resilience as a partner in the stress to illness causal chain is essential for LGBT health research. Second, I explore individual- versus community-based resilience in the context of minority stress. Although individual and community resilience should be seen as part of a continuum of resilience, it is important to recognize the significance of community resilience in the context of minority stress.
Article
Nearly two million school-aged children in US are currently homeschooled. This study seeks to examine homeschooled adolescents' attitudes toward, access to, and use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) compared to their non-homeschooled peers. The study uses data between 2002 and 2013 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for school-attending respondents aged 12-17 (n=200,824). Participants were questioned regarding peer use of licit and illicit substances, ease of accessing illicit substances, and past 12-month substance use. Survey adjusted binary logistic regression analyses were systematically executed to compare non-homeschooled adolescents with homeschooled adolescents with respect to views toward, access to, and use of substances. Findings indicate that homeschooled adolescents were significantly more likely to strongly disapprove of their peers drinking (AOR=1.23) and trying (AOR=1.47) and routinely using (AOR=1.59) marijuana. Homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely to report using tobacco (AOR=0.76), alcohol (AOR=0.50), cannabis (AOR=0.56) and other illicit drugs and to be diagnosed with an alcohol (AOR=0.65) or marijuana (AOR=0.60) use disorder. Finally, homeschooled adolescents were also less likely to report easier access to illicit drugs and to be approached by someone trying to sell drugs compared to non-homeschooled peers. Homeschooled adolescents' views, access, use and abuse of ATOD are uniquely different from those of non-homeschooled adolescents. Findings point to the need to more extensively examine the underlying mechanisms that may account for these differences. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.