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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
20-Jan-2014

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Contact: Tracy Tang
tracy.tang@nursing.ubc.ca
778-888-6848
University of British Columbia

Gay-straight alliances in schools reduce suicide risk for all students

Canadian schools with explicit anti-homophobia interventions such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs) may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students, according to a new study by University of British Columbia researchers.

Gay-straight alliances are student-led clubs that aim to make the school community a safer place for all students regardless of their sexual orientation. Their members include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies.

"We know that LGBTQ students are at higher risk for suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination," says Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study and professor with the UBC School of Nursing. "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."

LGBTQ youth and heterosexual students in schools with anti-homophobia policies and GSAs had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, primarily when both strategies were enacted, or when the polices and GSAs had been in place for three years or more.

Published in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the study drew on data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey to test the link between school policies and programs, discrimination due to perceived sexual orientation, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

The researchers previously found that Canadian high schools with GSAs in place for three years or more have a positive effect on both gay and straight students' problem alcohol use.

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NB: The study, School based strategies to reduce suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and discrimination among sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents in Western Canada is available here. Elizabeth Saewyc is available for interviews by contacting Tracy Tang at 778-888-6848 or tracy.tang@nursing.ubc.ca

BACKGROUND | Anti-homophobic interventions and discrimination, suicide

About the study

The study used data from the 2008 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey conducted by the McCreary Centre Society for grades 8 through 12, which involved 21,708 students. Participating school districts represent 92 per cent of enrolled students across the province. One in five students attended school in districts with anti-homophobic bullying policies and one in three attended schools with GSAs. Sixty per cent of students were in schools with neither.

Key findings:

In schools with gay-straight alliances implemented three or more years ago:

In schools where anti-homophobic policies have been in place for more than three years:

Study funder

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened health care system for Canadians. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada.



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