The Children's Hospital Boston study of more than 6,300 Massachusetts public high school students found among teens who were homeless, those who were gay, lesbian or bisexual (GLB) were consistently more likely than heterosexuals to be on their own, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
The study is the first to quantify the risk of homelessness among teens of different sexual orientations with population-based data.
Heather Corliss, PhD, MPH, of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children''s, the study''s first author, and colleagues analysed data from the 2005 and 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS).
The initial sample of 6,653 students was narrowed to 6,317 who gave full information on their sexual orientation and homelessness status. Less than 5 percent of students overall identified themselves as GLB, yet they accounted for 19 percent of those who identified themselves as homeless.
Rates of homelessness were 3.2 percent among exclusively heterosexual students, 12.5 percent among heterosexuals reporting same-sex partners, 15 percent among bisexuals, 25 percent among lesbian/gay students, and 20 percent among students who said they were unsure of their sexual orientation.
Among the youth who were homeless, those who were not exclusively heterosexual were more likely to be living away from their families.
Among boys identifying as gay, 15 percent were homeless but unaccompanied by parents/guardians, and 8 percent were homeless but living with parents.
Among lesbian girls, 22.5 percent were homeless and unaccompanied, while just 3.8 percent were homeless but with their parents.
The same pattern held among bisexual students, among heterosexuals with same-sex partners, and among males unsure of their sexual orientation.
"Teens with a sexual minority orientation are more likely than heterosexual teens to be unaccompanied and homeless rather than part of a homeless family," Corliss said.
"This suggests that they may be more likely to be mistreated or rejected by their families and more likely to leave home," she stated.
The researchers hope their findings will raise awareness of the vulnerability of GLB youth to homelessness, particularly among school administrators and other professionals working with adolescents.
The study has been published online July 21 by the American Journal of Public Health.