LGBT youth who come out as teens have better self-esteem as adults

Coming out younger will improve self-esteem.
Coming out younger will improve self-esteem.
Image: AP Photo/Lin Jui-ching
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Teenagers who are out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in high school are likely to face bullying or harassment. However, they also grow into young adults with higher self-esteem than the LGBT teens who kept their sexual or gender identities hidden in adolescence.

That’s according to a new study out of the University of Arizona, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Researchers surveyed 245 LGBT people between the ages of 21-25 in Northern California. They asked how “out”—on a scale of 0 to 4 (0 being out to nobody and 4 being out to everyone)—the respondents had been in high school, whether they had faced victimization for being or being perceived as LGBT, and their levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction at the time of the survey.

Reports of bullying prevailed across the board, though more so for the teens who were out in high school. But what’s notable is that the young adults who were out in high school reported lower depression, as well as higher self-esteem, than the ones who hid their identities in high school. It’s important to note that this was a relatively small sample of people, located in a part of the country that’s welcoming to the LGBT community. To strengthen its findings, the study should be replicated in other parts of the country as well, says study co-author Stephen Russell.

Still, the data casts doubt on arguments that teens should avoid coming out young because of the bullying they’ll face, Russell tells Quartz. Instead, society should focus more on recognizing that LGBT youth are coming out earlier than they used to, and that young people may need more support in the process.

Teens need a parent, teacher or counselor to help them prepare a plan for coming out, Russell says. That means identifying where they think both positive and negative reactions will come from, finding a few people to come out to first in order to become comfortable, and having someone they can rely on for continuous support.