Canadian high schools with anti-homophobia policies or gay-straight alliances (GSAs) that have been in place for three years or more have a positive effect on both gay and straight students' problem alcohol use, according to a new study by University of British Columbia researchers.
GSAs are student-led clubs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. Their purpose is to provide support and advocacy and help make schools more inclusive.
"These strategies appear to be helpful not only for LGBTQ students, but all students," says Elizabeth Saewyc, senior author and professor with the UBC School of Nursing. "Interventions that can make schools safer for LGBTQ youth may actually reduce harassment for straight students, too. Schools should consider including GSAs and anti-homophobia policies as part of their alcohol and drug abuse prevention strategies."
In schools with established GSAs, lesbian and bisexual girls and heterosexual boys and girls, all were less likely to binge drink and experience problems associated with alcohol or drug use such as blacking out, car accidents, problems at school or family arguments about alcohol use. There were no significant effects for gay or bisexual boys. Both heterosexual boys and girls also had lower odds of binge drinking in schools with anti-homophobia policies.
Published recently in the journal Preventive Medicine, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the study used data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey to look at whether students' odds of recent substance use were lower in schools with recent or more established anti-homophobia policies and gay straight alliances compared to schools without these strategies.
NB: The study, Population-level evaluation of school-based interventions to prevent problem substance use among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents in Canada, is available on request. Elizabeth Saewyc is available for interviews by contacting Tracy Tang at 778-888-6848 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACKGROUND | GSAs and problem alcohol use
About the study
This study used the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey conducted by the McCreary Centre Society for grades 8 through 12, which involved 21,708 students in 280 schools in 50 districts across the province. Fifteen school districts had anti-homophobic bullying policies and 87 schools had GSAs.
Information about whether schools had a gay-straight alliance and/or anti-homophobic bullying policy, and the year each began, were mapped onto the student responses. Schools with GSAs or policies that had been established three or more years past, and schools with more recent GSAs or policies, were compared to schools without either GSAs or anti-homophobia policies.
In schools with GSAs started three or more years ago:
- Lesbian and bisexual girls were 55 per cent less likely to drink alcohol last Saturday
- Lesbian and bisexual girls were 52 per cent less likely to binge drink last Saturday
- Heterosexual boys and girls were 19 per cent less likely to binge drink last Saturday
- Heterosexual boys had 20 per cent lower odds of problems from alcohol or drug use
- No differences for gay/bisexual boys
- No effects for heavy marijuana use
In schools with anti-homophobia policies enacted three or more years ago:
- Heterosexual boys were 45 per cent less likely to report binge drinking six or more days in the past month
- Heterosexual girls were 62 per cent less likely to binge drink 6 or more days in the past month, 32 per cent less likely to binge drink last
- Saturday, and 28 per cent less likely to report problems from alcohol or drug use
- Additional quotes
"This is an important study, which highlights how policies directed at supporting sexual minority youth in schools can reduce problem alcohol use among both gay and straight youth in these school settings. The wider impact of population health policies is an important area of inquiry. Findings such as these will be of considerable interest to decision-makers such as school board authorities." - Dr. Nancy Edwards of the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health
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.