Many lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people seeking asylum in the United States and Canada report suffering persecution and abuse in their homelands, a small study reveals.
The severe verbal, physical and sexual abuse often began in childhood, the study found. Perpetrators included parents and caregivers, peers and school staff, the Rutgers University researchers said.
The study included 26 interviews with people who obtained refuge or asylum in the United States or Canada on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They came from Barbados, Belarus, Jamaica, Iran, Kenya, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, South Korea, Trinidad, Uganda, Ukraine and Venezuela.
The study supports previous research showing that LGBT children and teens are at high risk for abuse that contributes to mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
“The findings suggest that compared to what we already know about LGBT youth in the U.S., children and youth in these countries have fewer support system resources, which impacts their resiliency,” study author Edward Alessi, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said in a university news release.
“Also, unlike youth in the U.S. and Canada who can choose to move to a more tolerant region, moving to another part of the country does not help because of laws and policies that make escaping severe homophobia and transphobia difficult,” he added.
Many study participants had ongoing conflicts with family members. All but four said they suffered abuse from peers and/or school staff. The abuse began in primary school and continued through high school. Some of the participants switched schools, while others eventually dropped out, the study found.
“When victimization occurred at the hands of peers or teachers, some participants could not rely on their parents to protect them. Many parents believed that participants had brought the abuse upon themselves because of their gender non-conformity. Additionally, they had nowhere to turn since parents and family members perpetrated the abuse as well,” Alessi said.
Despite the abuse, the study participants showed high levels of resilience.
“To deal with their situations during childhood and adolescence, many immersed themselves in their studies and therefore excelled academically. Furthermore, seeking refuge or asylum should be considered an act of resilience in and of itself,” Alessi said.
The study was published recently in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about LGBT health.