Skip to main content

Understanding the Experiences of LGBTQ Students in California

By Thomas Hanson, Gary Zhang, Rebeca Cerna, Alexis Stern, Gregory Austin


Research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning or queer (LGBTQ) youth are at high risk for bullying and violence, poor mental health, and other challenges.

The availability of data from WestEd’s California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), which provides arguably more data on LGBTQ youth than any other source in the nation, offers educators, school administrators, and state officials an important opportunity to explore how LGBTQ students — and other populations — perceive their school climate and how those perceptions relate to their academic success and emotional well-being.

This report describes the school experiences of LGBTQ students by examining two years of CHKS data from approximately 800,000 secondary school students. The data reveal students’ perceptions of school supports, school safety, school engagement, academic performance, and mental health.

Previous research in the field has pointed to challenges faced by LGBTQ students but has generally conflated multiple gender identity and sexual orientation categories, making it difficult to draw conclusions regarding how different kinds of students experience the challenges differently. This report instead disaggregates data by three gender identity categories and by five sexual orientation categories, thereby providing a more complete and nuanced picture.

The findings in this report indicate that LGBTQ youth receive substantially fewer social supports from teachers and school peers than their non-LGBTQ peers. The authors document the unmet needs and challenges of LGBTQ youth in California and provide suggestive evidence that schools might significantly improve the well-being of LGBTQ students by implementing policies and services and by creating a culture of support to address LGBTQ students’ unique needs and elevated risks.

An infographic is also available.

Resource Details

Product Information

Copyright: 2019
Format: PDF
Pages: 72
Publisher: WestEd