SAN DIEGO — One percent of children aged nine to ten self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a study by researchers at San Diego State University.
Interestingly, parents believed their children were gay or transgender at a higher rate, the study showed.
Previous research in LGBT identification and self-identification has traditionally been focused on subjects in their adolescent years.
“For so long, social scientists have assumed that there is no point in asking kids at this age about their sexual orientation, believing they do not have the cognitive ability to understand,” says co-author Aaron J. Blashill, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Psychology, in a media release. “This is the first study to actually ask children about their sexual orientation this young. It is important to have a baseline to understand how sexuality develops and how it may change over time.”
Blashill and co-author Jerel P. Calzo used the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, a multi-site study monitoring the brain development of children aged nine and ten over a ten year period. They also used data from 2016-2017 that reported how children self-identified and measured identity-related stress, and polled parents on perceptions about sexual identity.
They found that about 7 percent of parents believed that their child may be gay, while 1.2 percent thought that their child may be transgender. The children in the study also overwhelmingly reported no problems at home or at school as a result of their sexual or gender identification, while 7 percent of parents reported identity issues.
“This is such an important stage, biologically and socially. At 9 and 10, youth – whether through their peers, media or parents – are beginning to be exposed to more information about relationships and interacting in the world. Even about sex,” says Calzo, an associate professor in the SDSU School of Public Health. “They may not see any of this as sexual, but they are beginning to experience strong feelings.”
The authors also found that about a quarter (24 percent) of children in the study didn’t understand questions about sexual orientation.
“If we can understand identity development earlier and can track development using large datasets, we can begin improving research and prevention around risk and protective factors,” says Calzo. “We know from other studies that these identities can change over time, so this research is powerful. It helps us to understand sexual and gender identity younger so that we can have a much better understanding of these identities over time.”
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.