A US study has concluded that students who attend schools with gay-straight alliances have better mental health as young adults, are less likely to drop out of high school, and are more likely to attend college.

Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) are organisations set up by students at high schools to provide a supportive environment for LGBT youth and their straight friends. Several schools and districts in the US continue to ban the formation of GSAs.

Previous research has found that LGBT youth are at risk for school victimisation, report higher levels of depression and other mental health problems than their heterosexual peers and that LGBT bullying is related to diminished academic achievement.

The new study is one of the first to show that positive school-based supports, such as GSAs, can help prevent these negative outcomes in young adulthood.

“Given the recent attention to tragic deaths by suicide related to anti-LGBT school bullying over the past year, our research documents that having gay-straight alliances in schools is an important way to boost mental health and academic achievement for LGBT young people,” said co-author Russell Toomey.

Noted co-author Stephen T. Russell: “This study adds to the mounting evidence that youth-led clubs are important for healthy development – especially for youth at risk. For LGBT youth, high school gay-straight alliances make a significant positive difference.”

The authors, however, warned that GSAs cannot be the sole solution for creating safer school climates for LGBT youth.

They said that schools also need to implement other efforts to reduce anti-LGBT bias in schools in combination with the formation of GSAs, such as anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies, teacher training on how to intervene in school harassment related to sexual orientation and gender expression, and an LGBT-inclusive curriculum.

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