Gay kids punished more harshly

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2010

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health spent years gathering information about youth. And, as a part, they looked at gay youth and how they fare. Interestingly, they found that gay kids are punished more severely than heterosexual kids for the same infractions. (WaPo)

The results showed that, for similar misconduct, gay adolescents were roughly 1.25 to 3 times more likely to be sanctioned than their straight peers.

The greatest inequalities were with girls.

The sexual-orientation disparity was greatest for girls. Girls who identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual experienced 50 percent more police stops and reported more than twice as many juvenile arrests and convictions as other teen girls in similar trouble, the study said.

Priya Lynn

December 6th, 2010

It doesn’t make sense to me to say that the lesbians experiencing greater numbers of police stops was due to their orientation. In the vast majority of police stops the police don’t know the orientation of the driver or even who they are, so it seems to me that the greater number must be due to a greater number of infractions, not orientation.

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2010


The key phrase was “… as other teen girls in similar trouble …”

If you read the article, you’ll see that they accounted for any variance in the number of infractions.

Priya Lynn

December 6th, 2010

Yes, I saw that phrase but lesbians being stopped more frequently doesn’t make any sense in that context when the stop itself is considered a punishment, not an infraction.

Tony P

December 6th, 2010

Interesting stats. I don’t think my being gay ever netted me more harsh punishments but then I was the kind of kid, particularly teen who might pop you one in the face for discipline I felt was out of line.


December 6th, 2010

The lead author of the study is quoted in the article as suggesting these mechanisms for the effect:

“It could be that lesbian, gay and bisexual teens who got in trouble didn’t get the same breaks as other teens – say, for youthful age or self-defense, Himmelstein said. Or it could be that girls in particular were punished more often because of discomfort with or bias toward some who don’t fit stereotypes of femininity.”

I don’t have access to the original article right now, but I’m guessing “police stops” includes other interactions with the police than “traffic stops”, i.e. stops on the street, interactions with police assigned to schools, questioning, etc.

This would make it plausible that the police could observe markers of orientation (i.e. gender non-conforming appearance or behavior, romantic interactions with a partner, etc.) before deciding to “stop” someone.

Heck, this is sometimes observable even if you’re driving around; people of color are stopped in traffic stops at a greater rate than their presence in the population. It might be harder to spot a lesbian in her car, but things like rainbow stickers could be a giveaway.

I see this result as being in line with other research, such as the finding that gender non-conforming women are more likely to be sexually harassed than those who present more femininely (

I’d guess, like the lead author, that when police or other agents of authority “eyeball” people to see who’s a troublemaker/suspicious or whether or not they’re worth being lenient towards that gender non-conforming appearance/behavior can contribute to being seen as a less savory character.

Regan DuCasse

December 6th, 2010

Excellent kat. You’ve hit it closer to the reality of the situation.
I’ve had to do some research for school (crime analysis and forensic science). I also have directories that break down prison populations according to many factors.

I did some cross checking and references and inmates that identify as gay do the full extent of their sentencing and are sentenced more harshly than their straight counterparts for the same crime. They aren’t paroled as often. And when it comes to capital crimes, in the last ten to fifteen years, death row inmates identified as gay and lesbian have been executed, whereas their straight counterparts are still alive, still under the appeals process or their sentences commuted to life.

You might recall a case in KS, I think it was where a developmentally disabled 18 year old boy was caught fellating a 15 yr old boy in their group home. It was consentual, but the older boy was arrested.
In the case of op sex ‘Romeo and Juliet’ situations such as this, considered statutory rather than rape assault, the common precedent was probation.
But the older boy was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while no straight person of his age and situation NEVER had been.
The judge, during sentencing, obviously was anti gay and sought to punish this boy in ways out of proportion to other precedents where boys like him served NO time.

The boy ended up serving five years before advocate attorneys were able to get him released.

So, it’s quite believable that such an issue occurs at the juvenile level.
And we deserve to know the reason why.

Donny D.

December 7th, 2010

Priya Lynn:

“It doesn’t make sense to me to say that the lesbians experiencing greater numbers of police stops was due to their orientation. In the vast majority of police stops the police don’t know the orientation of the driver or even who they are, so it seems to me that the greater number must be due to a greater number of infractions, not orientation.”

The stops of lesbian or gay male teenagers aren’t the vast majority of police stops.

I can look at some drivers and have a pretty good idea they are gay. Why couldn’t an uptight, homophobic cop of either gender?

My guess is that the unfair treatment happens more to those teenagers who are obviously gay.

And in small towns, cops are fairly likely to know the people they see driving around.

There are also the stops of people coming from known gay areas. I don’t know how often this would apply to gay teenagers, since most can’t (legally) go to bars, but that doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities.

Priya Lynn

December 7th, 2010

Donny said “I can look at some drivers and have a pretty good idea they are gay. Why couldn’t an uptight, homophobic cop of either gender?”.

You don’t normally get much of a look at the driver of a car and in any event the decision to pull a car over is usually made based on an infraction and it isn’t until the car is pulled over that one normally gets a good look at the driver. The fact that cops pull blacks over more frequently is irrelevant, the skin colour of a driver is far, far more noticeable than a driver’s orientation. It isn’t plausible that cops sense a driver is gay first and then decide to pull them over. Anyone who claims to have a “pretty good idea” that a car driver is gay isn’t believable.

Timothy Kincaid

December 7th, 2010

Playing the guessing game:

I suspect that part of the reason why we see this more with lesbians than gay boys is simply sexist.

Culturally, we are inclined to see boys as natural aggressors and girls as someone who ‘got caught up by bad influences’. A girl who commits an infraction is allowed to cry and needs protection by society. A boy is a hoodlum and is trained to be surly and take his punishment like a man.

While those are wild stereotypes and some of that has changed, it still is deeply ingrained in our culture.

But girls who are not-so-girly may be perceived more like boys. They are less “fragile”, they need less “protection”. While Daddy’s Princess can do no wrong, Daddy’s tom-boy may not be given the benefit of the doubt.

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