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Gay Mass. teens more likely than peers to be homeless, study finds

Gay teens in Massachusetts are far more likely to be homeless than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study from researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The researchers analyzed a survey of more than 6,000 public high school students and found that approximately 25 percent of gay and lesbian teens and 15 percent of those who said they are bisexual were homeless, compared with just 3 percent of heterosexual teens who were homeless.

“It may be that their living situation is so difficult that they decide to leave home, and it may be that they are coming out and their parents are telling them, not under my roof,’’ said the study’s lead author, Heather Corliss, a research scientist at Children’s and an instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

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Corliss’ team analyzed the data from the 2005 and 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a comprehensive survey conducted every other year by state education and public health officials to assess teen health, such as tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and sexual orientation.

The researchers found that 34 percent of the students who said they were homeless in the survey also indicated that they were either gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure of their sexual orientation. Of that group, 19 percent said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Other studies of homeless teens have found that anywhere from 5 to 50 percent said they were not heterosexual.

But the Children’s Hospital analysis is believed to be the first one that studied the issue in the general population, in this case, in the state’s schools, whereas other studies surveyed teens on the street or living in shelters.

The Children’s study, which is being published in the American Journal of Public Health, used an expansive definition of homeless — the same one public schools are required to use under federal law to ensure homeless teens are receiving adequate education and services.

Under that definition, teens were categorized as not homeless if they indicated in the survey that they lived “at home with my parents or guardians.’’ Any other answer was recorded as being homeless.

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Other studies have shown that teens who are homeless are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky behavior.

Corliss said she hopes those findings, combined with the results of her team’s analysis, spur more help for gay and bisexual youth.

“I hope these findings will lead to changes in communities to reduce the disparities,’’ Corliss said. “There has to be changes in communities, in churches, in schools, and in families so that they become more supportive’’ of these teens.

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