Having a gay-straight alliance in a high school has an unexpected bonus benefit -- student binge drinking drops significantly, a British Columbia study suggests.
That's because students both gay and straight who feel good about themselves and feel safe in their schools make fewer bad decisions about "negative coping."
"Kids who are bullied are much more likely to engage in binge drinking," University of British Columbia nursing professor Elizabeth Saewyc said recently from Vancouver. "That kind of bullying is distressing and has health impacts."
More than one in five B.C. high school students indulges in binge drinking on a regular basis, and among those kids, binge drinking dropped by 20 per cent if their school had a gay-straight alliance for at least three years, Saewyc said.
"That's a pretty respectable change," she said.
Published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the UBC study used data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey to look at whether students' odds of recent substance use were lower in schools with established anti-homophobia policies and gay-straight alliances.
Saewyc said 87 out of about 300 B.C. high schools have a gay-straight alliance, and 17 of 57 school districts have specific anti-homophobia policies.
Gay and lesbian students aren't the only ones bullies target, she said -- which is consistent with the national research conducted by University of Winnipeg education professor Catherine Taylor. Many straight students mistakenly believed to be gay are also victims of homophobic bullying.
"We were measuring actual health outcomes," Saewyc said.
"That makes perfect sense -- that's just a common-sense thing," Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said Friday. "GSAs obviously affect inclusion -- they definitely affect the safety and inclusion for everybody."
Education Minister Nancy Allan's anti-bullying Bill 18 includes a provision that any student in a public school or publicly funded private school who asks to start a gay-straight alliance must be accommodated.
Bill 18 is supposed to take effect when school starts next month. However, it's among major legislation whose passage is being held up by the opposition Progressive Conservatives' ongoing delaying tactics in the legislature protesting a one-percentage-point increase in provincial sales tax.
The UBC researchers' findings play out every day at the Rainbow Resource Centre, said executive director Chad Smith.
"Kids that come to our youth group see changes in self-esteem, self-image," said Smith, who helps students organize gay-straight alliances throughout Manitoba. "We see huge changes in kids' perceptions of themselves.
"When they're feeling better about themselves, they're making better decisions. Negative coping decreases," Smith said.
"That's a good term, negative coping," said Olson, who agreed that students who feel good about themselves and their schools are far less likely to try to drink away their unhappiness.
Join the conversation in the comments below:
Do you think this study will change opinions of allowing gay-straight alliances in Manitoba? schools?