A new study may have uncovered a little-known form of discrimination: gay teens are more likely than straight kids to be punished by schools and police. And girls are especially at risk.
According to the Washington Post, researchers from Yale found that for the same infraction, gay teens were anywhere from 1.25 to 3 times more likely to get punished than their straight peers. Says lead author Kathryn Himmelstein, "The most striking difference was for lesbian and bisexual girls, and they were two to three times as likely as [straight] girls with similar behavior to be punished." So why do schools, police, and courts come down harder on gay kids? Clara McCreery, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at a Bethesda, Maryland high school, says, "I wonder if some people misinterpret the way some gay girls choose to dress as a sign of aggression." And Himmelstein too speculates that authorities might treat girls more harshly if they don't conform to gender stereotypes. Maybe just as women are sometimes judged for behaving in stereotypically "masculine" ways in the workplace, young girls are subject to to disproportionate punishment if their schools see them as insufficiently "girly."
The study also offers another way of looking at the recent case of Kelsey Hicks and Melissa McKenzie (pictured), who say their high school discouraged them from graduating because they're gay. A local reporter countered that the girls "had a long history of troublemaking and bullying. And lying," and that one had been barred from attending school because of her change of address, not her sexual orientation. It's hard to tell what the full story is here, but the Yale study suggests that gay teenagers, especially girls, are perceived as "troublemakers" in situations where their straight classmates might get a pass. This doesn't prove that Hicks and McKenzie are in the right, but it does suggest that there's a pattern of discrimination against gay teens when it comes to discipline — and that some of the obstacles gay teens face in their struggle for equality are the very people who are supposed to protect them.