Facilitating friendships between gay and straight students benefits everyone, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.
Students in Canadian schools with gay-straight alliances were less likely to be discriminated against, had lower odds of suicidal thoughts and had fewer suicide attempts—regardless of whether they were gay or straight.
“We know that LGBTQ students are at higher risk for suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination,” Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study and professor with the UBC School of Nursing, told the UBC press office. “But heterosexual students can also be the target of homophobic bullying. When policies and supportive programs like GSAs are in place long enough to change the environment of the school, it’s better for students’ mental health, no matter what their orientation.”
The study looked at data gathered in 2008 across the province of British Columbia. Overall, 21,708 students from grades 8 to 12 were represented. In schools with GSAs the odds of suicidal thoughts were cut in half for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. And heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide.
There's definitely something to be said for having school that would support and implement a GSA in the first place. But the effects that the study documented were stronger for longer-lived GSAs, which suggests that GSAs themselves are helping, too. When GSAs were around for three years or more, the numbers the researchers documented were even more impressive. Gay and bisexual boys had 70 percent lower odds of suicidal thoughts.
Schools without GSAs should take notice, the authors write. “Given consistently higher documented risk for suicidal ideation and attempts among LGB and mostly heterosexual adolescents, prevention efforts should be a priority, and school-level interventions, such as GSAs, may be an effective approach to reducing this risk, while also offering prevention benefits for heterosexual boys.” In other words, bonds between gay and straight students benefit everyone.