HOMOPHOBIC attitudes are relatively prevalent among Australian teenage boys according to a new study, contributing to poorer mental health and increased suicide risk among same-sex attracted young people.

The research from Beyondblue looked at attitudes of 12 to 17-year-old boys towards lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and towards homophobic bullying.

Most participants in the study agreed homophobic discrimination was common, and that it could lead to depression and anxiety.

However, a significant minority indicated their own behaviour could be discriminatory, and displayed a lack of awareness of more subtle forms of discrimination.

Perhaps most distressingly, 38 per cent did not say they would be happy being friends with a same-sex attracted person, and 41 per cent said lesbian, gay and bisexual people make them uncomfortable.

Thirty-four per cent of boys were unsure of whether ending a friendship if someone said they were same-sex attracted was discrimination, and around a quarter said using “gay” to mean “bad” was okay.

A smaller minority (19 per cent) saw homosexuality as immoral, and 17 per cent said it was a “passing phase”.

The release of the study coincides with the relaunch of Beyondblue’s “left-handed” campaign (scroll down for video), featuring a cinema ad showing a boy being bullied for being left-handed, and drawing the comparison with same-sex attraction.

Beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman said the campaign was vitally needed given the high rates of homophobia among teenage boys.

“Research shows young males hold more homophobic attitudes than the general public and this latest study shows that, no matter what other gains have been made for LGBTI people, homophobia remains common among teenage boys,” she said.

“This is particularly concerning given young LGBTI people are already three to six times more likely to be distressed than their straight peers. If we want to reduce their distress, we must reduce the discrimination they face.

“We know that high levels of distress have a strong link to depression, anxiety and suicide.”

Speaking last week at the Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women’s Health Conference, Harman addressed confusion within the LGBTI community over the left-handed campaign.

A lesbian herself, Harman said it was understandable some in the community hadn’t wholeheartedly embraced the campaign, but explained it was important to understand it was in fact targeting straight teenage boys.

“[The campaign] has caused some bemusement in our community — that’s probably the polite version,” she said.

“I need to be really clear… it was not designed for us, which is why we feel like, ‘what the hell were Beyondblue doing, seriously, what were they thinking.’

“It was designed for 12 to 17-year-old straight boys, which is the group we know has the most homophobic and discriminatory views, and we know it works… we need to keep reminding heterosexual teenagers about this stuff.”

If you are experiencing distress and need support, call Beyondblue’s 24/7 support line on 1300 224 636, or use their web chat service from 3pm to midnight every night at www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support.

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