The number of LGBT students in San Francisco middle and high schools who have attempted suicide — rates that for some groups near 50 percent — could grow unless intervention and early acceptance programs are increased, advocates say.
Roughly 33 percent of middle school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual have attempted suicide, according to a 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — the most recent data available. Among high school students, the rate is roughly 17 percent.
Among middle school-age transgender students, who were identified independently for the first time in the survey, the rate was 49.8 percent. For high school students identifying as transgender, the rate was 36.1 percent.
The numbers for the LGBT students were much higher when compared to their heterosexual classmates in the survey that included more than 3,000 San Francisco Unified School District students. Only 6 percent of middle school students said they had attempted suicide and another 8 percent said they'd tried as high schoolers.
The numbers have alarmed school district officials and community organizations that are determined to increase supports in schools.
Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, said more students are coming out at a younger age, which is positive for the cultural movement but can be dangerous if they do not have the proper supports in place.
"I think we'll see it get worse for a number of years," Ryan said. "Adolescents are coming out at much younger ages and though schools are putting some programs in place, they're still being victimized in their community or harassed in a congregation."
Ryan said that's why it's important to have programming that includes family and community support, not just at schools.
Kevin Gogin, the district's program manger for school health programs, said the data collected from the survey help them adjust programs and increase outreach as needed.
"Our job is to educate," Gogin said. "Our job is to get students ready to enter the world so they can be respectful of the differences that exist, and we do that by addressing the reality of our communities in a developmentally appropriate way."
Gogin said the district has numerous ways of reaching students, including many lessons in elementary schools about LGBTQ and families, and school-wide outreach at middle and high schools. Additionally, there are also 30 gay-straight alliance groups at middle and high schools.
In addition to the rates of suicide, students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender also are more likely to use drugs, experience bullying or violence and have failing grades, according to the survey results.
LYRIC — Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center — is one nonprofit that uses a holistic approach to explain to students, teachers and parents the importance of acceptance. The organization recently received $75,000 from The City to continue their efforts in three San Francisco schools, which it began after seeing the survey results.
"We were shocked and mortified by the data," said Anayvette Martinez, LYRIC's initiative director. "This is San Francisco, everyone expects better. This work is imperative, it needs to be different and transform schools."