Well-Being Mental Health

Study finds LGBTQ+ youth coming out younger than ever

The risk of suicide among LGBTQ+ young people who came out before their 13th birthday was substantially lowered by high levels of social support at home.
(FG Trade/Getty Images)

Story at a glance

  • More LGBTQ+ 13- to 17-year-olds report coming out to their family and friends before they turned 13, according to new research from The Trevor Project.

  • Youth that reported coming out earlier in life also reported higher rates of victimization and discrimination tied to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Coming out in and of itself is not harmful to young people at any age. Rather, it is the harmful environments LGBTQ+ youth often find themselves in that contribute to negative mental health outcomes.

LGBTQ+ adolescents are coming out to their loved ones at a younger age than ever, but social stigmas tied to their sexual orientation or gender identity are a risk to their mental health.

In a report published published Monday, researchers at the Trevor Project, a leading LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization, found that LGBTQ+ 13- to 17-year-olds are more likely to have come out to their family and friends around age 13.

Nearly 35 percent of LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 17 said they had come out before their 13th birthday, according to the report, which used data collected by the group earlier this year from close to 34,000 LGBTQ+ young people nationwide.

Prior research has found that LGBTQ+ identification in the U.S. is trending upward, particularly among young adults in Gene Z, born between 1997 and 2003.

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As a point of comparison, people who identify as LGBTQ+ who are between 18 and 24 reported coming out closer to the age of 16.

More than 20 percent of Gen Z in a February Gallup poll said they identified as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — double that of millennials and more than four times the number of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) that openly identify as LGBTQ+.

But despite the growing share of LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S., continued social stigma and little access to affirming spaces make it difficult to feel accepted even if they are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Youth surveyed by The Trevor Project reported having more frequent suicidal thoughts, with more than half of LGBTQ+ youth who came out before they turned 13 seriously considering suicide over the past year, compared to 42 percent of youth who came out later.

Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ+ youth who came out younger than 13, more than 1 in every 5 people, reported attempting suicide sometime in the last year.

Nearly half — 46 percent — who came out before their 13th birthday said they had been physically assaulted or harmed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and more than 80 percent reported experiencing discrimination.

Research from The Trevor Project last year found that openly LGBTQ+ middle schoolers report higher rates of bullying compared to LGBTQ+ youth in high school.

While older LGBTQ+ adolescents reported experiencing victimization, they also have access to protective factors that may not be available to younger LGBTQ+ youth, like affirming communities and people and more autonomy to seek them out.

Notably, youth who came out younger than 13 and had high levels of support at home reported half the rate of attempting suicide, 11 percent, than LGBTQ+ young people who came out before they turned 13 and had low or moderate social support from their family. Twenty-four percent of the later group reported attempting suicide, according to the report.

Coming out in and of itself is not harmful to LGBTQ youth mental health — it’s more about the level of support you have where and when you come out,” Myeshia Price, the Trevor Project’s director of research science, said Monday.

“These data should not discourage LGBTQ youth from coming out for fear of bullying or harassment,” Price said, “but rather serve as a call to action for the people in their lives — parents, family members, teachers, doctors, and other direct service providers — to create safe, affirming environments where LGBTQ youth can feel seen and supported for who they are.”

While coming out early may be associated with increased rates of victimization, delaying the coming out process may also have mental health implications, according to the Trevor Project report.

Youth who came out within a year of realizing they may be LGBTQ+ reported lower rates of attempting suicide in the past year, at 12 percent, compared to young people who came out two or more years after realizing they might be LGBTQ+, at 16 percent.