Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 215–230

Developmental and Adjustment Issues of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents: A Review of the Empirical Literature

  • Karla Anhalt
  • Tracy L. Morris


Various studies have reported adjustment problems experienced by gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) adolescents. A primary purpose of this paper is to critically review this literature. Difficulties that have been studied include past suicide attempts, substance use and abuse, conduct problems, and academic concerns. For example, a considerable number of GLB youth report a history of suicide attempts, with prevalence rates ranging from 11 to 42%. However, among other methodological concerns, studies in this area have not used a comparison sample of heterosexual youths. Characteristics of development particular to GLB adolescents are described, the empirical research on adjustment issues is reviewed, and potential risk and protective factors for GLB youths are discussed.

Gay adolescents lesbian adolescents bisexual adolescents developmental issues adjustment issues 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, G. R., Gullota, T. P., & Markstrom-Adams, C. (1994). Adolescent life experiences. (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  2. Albano, A. M., & Silverman, W. (1996). Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule for DSM-IV: Child Version. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corp.Google Scholar
  3. American Medical Association. (1994). Health care needs of gay men and lesbians in the U.S.A. Report presented by the Council on Scientific Affairs to the AMA House of Delegates Interim Meeting.Google Scholar
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  6. Bailey, J. M., & Zucker, K. J. (1995). Childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation: A conceptual analysis and quantitative review. Developmental Psychology, 31, 43–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Centers for Disease Control. (1996). Youth risk behavior surveillance system: United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 45, 1–86.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, K. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (1996). Developmental perspectives on coming out to self and others. In R. C. Savin-Williams & K. M. Cohen (Eds.), The lives of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals: Children to adults (pp. 113–144). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  9. Crockett, L. J., & Petersen, A. C. (1993). Adolescent development: Health risks and opportunities for health promotion. In S. G. Millstein, A. C. Petersen, & E. O. Nightingale (Eds.), Promoting the health of adolescents: New directions for the twenty-first century (pp. 13–37). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. D'Augelli, A. R. (1991). Gay men in college: Identity processes and adaptations. Journal of College Student Development, 32, 140–146.Google Scholar
  11. D'Augelli, A. R., & Hershberger, S. L. (1993). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in community settings: Personal challenges and mental health problems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 21, 421–448.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. D'Emilio, J. (1983). Sexual politics, sexual communities: The making of a homosexual minority in the United States 1940–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ebata, A. T., Petersen, A. C., & Conger, J. J. (1990). The development of psychopathology in adolescence. In J. Rolf, A. S. Masten, D. Cicchetti, K. H. Nuechterlein, & S. Weintraub (Eds.), Risk and protective factors in the development of psychopathology (pp. 308–333). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Elliott, G. R., & Feldman, S. S. (1990). Capturing the adolescent experience. In S. S. Feldman & G. R. Elliott (Eds.)., At the threshold: The developing adolescent (pp. 1–14). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Faderman, L. (1991). Odd girls and twilight lovers: A history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  16. Fremouw, W. J., de Perczel, M., & Ellis, T. E. (1990). Suicide risk: Assessment and response guidelines. New York: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  17. Friedman, S. R., Curtis, R., Jose, B., Neaigus, A., Zenilman, J., Culpepper-Morgan, J., Borg, L., Kreek, J., Paone, D., & Des Jarlais, D. C. (1997). Sex, drugs, and infections among youth: Parenterally and sexually transmitted diseases in a high risk neighborhood. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 24, 322–326.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Garmezy, M. (1985). Stress-resistant children: The search for protective factors. In J. E. Stevenson (Ed.), Recent research in developmental psychopathology (pp. 213–233). Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  19. Garofalo, R., Wolf, R. C., Kessel, S., Palfrey, S. J., & DuRant, R. H. (1998). The association between health risk behaviors and sexual orientation among a school-based sample of adolescents. Pediatrics, 101, 895–902.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women's sexual identities. In The Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 18–34). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gonsiorek, J. C., Sell, R. L., & Weinrich, J. D. (1995). Definition and measurement of sexual orientation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 25(Suppl. 1), 40–51.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Gonsiorek, J. C., & Weinrich, J. D. (1991). The definition and scope of sexual orientation. In J. C. Gonsiorek & J. D. Weinrich (Eds.), Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy (pp. 1–12). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Green, R. (1987). The “sissy boy syndrome” and the development of homosexuality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Greene, B. (1994). Ethnic-minority lesbians and gay men: Mental health and treatment issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 243–251.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Herdt, G. (1989). Introduction: Gay and lesbian youth, emergent identities, and cultural scenes at home and abroad. In G. Herdt (Ed.), Gay and lesbian youth (pp. 315–355). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park.Google Scholar
  26. Herdt, G., & Boxer, A. M. (1993). Children of Horizons: How gay and lesbian teens are leading a new way out of the closet. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  27. Hershberger, S. L., & D'Augelli, A. R. (1995). The impact of victimization on the mental health and suicidality of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Developmental Psychology, 31, 65–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hershberger, S. L., Pilkington, N. W., & D'Augelli, A. R. (1997). Predictors of suicide attempts among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12, 477–497.Google Scholar
  29. Hetrick, E. S., & Martin, A. D. (1987). Developmental issues and their resolution for gay and lesbian adolescents. Journal of Homosexuality, 14, 25–44.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hunter, J., & Haymes, R. (1998). It's beginning to rain: Gay/lesbian/bisexual adolescents and AIDS. In M. S. Schneider (Ed.), Pride and prejudice: Working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth (pp. 137–163). Toronto, Canada: Central Toronto Youth Services.Google Scholar
  31. Hunter, J., & Schaecher, R. (1990). Stresses on lesbian and gay adolescents in schools. Social Work in Education, 9, 180–189.Google Scholar
  32. Kennedy, E. L., & Davis, M. D. (1993). Boots of leather, slippers of gold: The history of a lesbian community. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Kovacs, M. (1992). Children's Depression Inventory. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  34. Kovacs, M., & Paulaustkas, S. L. (1984). Developmental stage and the expression of depressive disorders in children. In D. Cicchetti & K. Schneider-Rosen (Eds.), Childhood depression (pp. 59–80). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  35. Lemp, G. F., Hirozawa, A. M., Givertz, D., Nieri, G. N., Anderson, L., Lindegren, M. L., Janssen, R. S., & Katz, M. (1994). Seroprevalence of HIV and risk behaviors among young homosexual and bisexual men: The San Francisco/Berkeley young men's survey. Journal of the American Medical Association, 272, 449–454.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Lemp, G. F., Jones, M., Kellogg, T. A., Nieri, G. N., Anderson, L., Withum, D., & Katz, M. (1995). HIV seroprevalence and risk behaviors among lesbians and bisexual women in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. American Journal of Public Health, 85, 1549–1552.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., & Seeley, J. R. (1996). Adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts: Prevalence, risk factors, and clinical implications. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 3, 25–46.Google Scholar
  38. Martin, A. D., & Hetrick, E. S. (1988). The stigmatization of the gay and lesbian adolescent. Journal of Homosexuality, 15, 163–183.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Miller, B. C., Christopherson, C. R., & King, P. K. (1993). Sexual behavior in adolescence. In T. P. Gullota, G. R. Adams, & R. Montemayor (Eds.), Adolescent sexuality (pp. 57–76). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  40. Newman, B. S., & Muzzonigro, P. G. (1993). The effects of traditional family values on the coming out process of gay male adolescents. Adolescence, 28, 213–226.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Newton, D. E. (1994). Gay and lesbian rights: A reference handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.Google Scholar
  42. Patterson, C. J. (1995). Sexual orientation and human development: An overview. Developmental Psychology, 31, 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Petersen, A. C. (1987). The nature of biological-psychosocial interactions: The sample case of early adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & T. T. Foch (Eds.) Biological-psychological interactions in early adolescence: A life-span perspective (pp. 35–61). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  44. Petersen, A. C., Leffert, N., & Graham, B. L. (1995). Adolescent development and the emergence of sexuality. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 25(Suppl. 1), 4–17.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Petersen, A. C., & Taylor, B. (1980). The biological approach to adolescence. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (pp. 117–55). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Pilkington, N. W., & D'Augelli, A. R. (1995). Victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in community settings. Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 34–57.Google Scholar
  47. Proctor, C. D., & Groze, V. K. (1994). Risk factors for suicide among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths. Social Work, 39, 504–512.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Reich, W., Welner, Z., & Herjanic, B. (1998). Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-IV. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  49. Remafedi, G. (1987). Adolescent homosexuality: Psychosocial and medical implications. Pediatrics, 79, 331–337.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Remafedi, G. (1994). Predictors of unprotected intercourse among gay and bisexual youth: Knowledge, beliefs, and behavior. Pediatrics, 94, 163–168.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Remafedi, G., Farrow, J. A., & Deisher, R. W. (1991). Risk factors for attempted suicide in gay and bisexual youth. Pediatrics, 87, 869–75.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Remafedi, G., French, S., Story, M., Resnick, M. D., & Blum, R. (1998). The relationship between suicide risk and sexual orientation: Results of a population-based study. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 57–60.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R., & Harris, L. (1992). Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics, 89, 714–721.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Reynolds, W. M. (1986). Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  55. Roesler, T., & Deisher, R. W. (1972). Youthful male homosexuality: Homosexual experience and the process of developing homosexual identity in males aged 16 to 22 years. Journal of the American Medical Association, 219, 1018–1023.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Rosario, M., Hunter, J., & Gwadz, M. (1997). Exploration of substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Prevalence and correlates. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12, 454–476.Google Scholar
  57. Rothblum, E. D. (1994). “I only read about myself on bathroom walls”: The need for research on the mental health of lesbians and gay men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 213–220.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., & Fernandez, M. I. (1995). Sexual orientation and developmental challenges experienced by gay and lesbian youth. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 25(Suppl. 1), 26–34.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Hunter, J., & Rosario, M. (1994). Suicidal behavior and gay-related stress among gay and bisexual male adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 9, 498–508.Google Scholar
  60. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Hunter, J., & Rosario, M. (1995). Coming out as lesbian or gay in the era of AIDS. In G. M. Herek, & B. Greene (Eds.), AIDS, identity, and community: The HIV epidemic and lesbians and gay men (pp. 150–168). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  61. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., & Koopman, C. (1991). Sexual risk behavior, AIDS knowledge, and beliefs about AIDS among predominantly minority gay and bisexual male adolescents. AIDS Education and Prevention, 3, 305–312.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Rosario, M., Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L., Koopman, C., Dopkins, S. C., & Davis, M. (1994). Sexual and substance use acts of gay and bisexual male adolescents in New York City. Journal of Sex Research, 31, 47–57.Google Scholar
  63. Rotheram-Borus, M. J., Rosario, M., Van Rossem, R., Reid, H., & Gillis, R. (1995). Prevalence, course, and predictors of multiple problem behaviors among gay and bisexual male adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 31, 75–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1990). Gay and lesbian youth: Expressions of identity. New York: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  65. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1994). Verbal and physical abuse as stressors in the lives of lesbian, gay male, and bisexual youths: Associations with school problems, running away, substance abuse, prostitution, and suicide. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 261–269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1995). Lesbian, gay male, and bisexual adolescents. In A. R. D'Augelli, & C. J. Patterson (Eds.), Lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities over the lifespan: Psychological perspectives (pp. 165–189). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Savin-Williams, R. C., & Rodriguez, R. C. (1993). A developmental, clinical perspective on lesbian, gay male, and bisexual youths. In T. P. Gullota, G. R. Adams, & R. Montemayor (Eds.), Adolescent sexuality (pp. 77–101). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  68. Schneider, S. G., Farberow, N. L., & Kruks, G. N. (1989). Suicidal behavior in adolescent and young adult gay men. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 19, 381–394.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Sears, J. T. (1991). Growing up gay in the South: Race, gender, and journeys of the spirit. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.Google Scholar
  70. Sonenstein, F. L., Pleck, J. H., & Ku, L. C. (1989). Sexual activity, condom use and AIDS awareness among adolescent males. Family Planning Perspectives, 21, 152–158.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Sorenson, R. C. (1973). Adolescent sexuality in contemporary America. New York: World.Google Scholar
  72. Strickland, B. R. (1995). Research on sexual orientation and human development: A commentary. Developmental Psychology, 31, 137–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wenar, C. (1994). Developmental psychopathology: From infancy through adolescence. (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  74. Weinrich, J. D., & Williams, W. L. (1991). Strange customs, familiar lives: Homosexualities in other cultures. In J. C. Gonsiorek & J. D. Weinrich (Eds.), Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy (pp. 44–59). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  75. Working Groups, Workshop on Suicide and Sexual Orientation (1995). Recommendations for a research agenda in suicide and sexual orientation. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 25(Suppl. 1), 82–88.Google Scholar
  76. Zucker, K. J. (1985). Cross-gender-identified children. In B. W. Steiner (Ed.), Gender dysphoria: Development, research, management (pp. 75–174). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karla Anhalt
    • 1
  • Tracy L. Morris
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgan-town

Personalised recommendations