By Nicole Sykes, Director of Policy and Communications at PBE

The organisers of Pride in London recently announced that the slogan for the country's biggest pride march of 2023 was to be 'Never March Alone'. For LGBT+ young people, new data suggests that this is a particularly fitting rallying cry - because on a wide range of wellbeing measures, LGBT+ young people are scoring significantly worse than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. 

The #BeeWell project is a groundbreaking programme responsible for surveying 35,000 young people across 152 secondary schools in Greater Manchester on their levels of wellbeing in autumn last year. This has led to an incredibly rich data set, which has shone an important light on the state of LGBT+ young people's wellbeing. The story it tells is a worrying one. 

The data shows there is a serious wellbeing issue among LGBT+ young people in Manchester's schools. LGBT+ young people are substantially more likely than their peers to report high levels of stress and emotional problems, as well as low levels of life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing. There is a particularly stark difference in the reporting of emotional problems by young LGBT+ people, compared to their cisgender and heterosexual peers - meaning that they are far more likely to report feeling sometimes or always lonely, unhappy, unliked, worried, shy and scared, or that they cry a lot and sleep poorly.

In line with smaller studies that highlight the high incidence of poor mental health among trans young people, this group are clearly in an incredibly vulnerable state. In the survey, trans young people reported lower levels of satisfaction with their lives, scoring an average life satisfaction score of 4.8 out of 10. Cis males, in comparison, scored an average of 7.1. Trans young people also recorded the lowest average scores of any group for their overall psychological wellbeing. 

Additionally concerning is how many of these LGBT+ young people do not feel as if their lives will improve. Among Year 10s in Manchester, only two-thirds (66%) of LGBT+ pupils reported that they have hope and feel optimistic about the future, compared with 85% of pupils overall.

That feeling of hopelessness about their futures extends to their employment prospects. Less than two-thirds (63%) of LGBT+ young people feel like they are in control of their future education, training and job prospects, compared with three-quarters (75%) of all young people on average. A similar proportion of LGBT+ young people (63%) have confidence in their skills and abilities, compared to an average of eight in 10 (80%) cishet young people. Meanwhile, LGBT+ young people are 10 percentage points less likely than the average Year 10 pupil in Greater Manchester to believe they have the same chance as everyone else of getting a job. 

Whether young people from the LGBT+ community are right to be concerned about their future employment prospects is unclear - the current evidence base on equality of employment outcomes by sexual orientation is thought to be weak and inconsistent. Upcoming Census releases ought to fill some of the data gap. However, trans and gender diverse young people may well have valid reasons for concern. In a survey of LGBT+ people undertaken by the UK government in 2018, trans people were significantly less likely to have been in paid work in the 12 months running up to the survey, with 65% of trans women and 57% of trans men reporting this was the case, compared with 80% of respondents overall aged 16-64.

There is no reason to assume that the dramatic differences in wellbeing between LGBT+, cisgender and heterosexual young people revealed by #BeeWell are restricted to Greater Manchester. Additionally, it is important to note that there is no evidence that this wellbeing gap has widened in recent years. Yet, as the arguments about trans rights continue, alongside substantial increases in recorded hate crimes against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and trans status, the country that today's LGBT+ young people are growing up in is a far more challenging one than many of us envisaged even 10 years ago. Back then, we were celebrating the gains of same-sex marriage and felt as if we were securing growing progress. Putting connection and community at the heart of pride, particularly for trans people, is a nice gesture - but it is clear that far greater targeted action is needed to close the wellbeing gap for LGBT+ young people. 

Understanding more about the gap is the first step towards solving it. The #BeeWell project has demonstrated that these wellbeing inequalities by sexual orientation and gender identity are substantially more pronounced than wellbeing inequalities by ethnicity, special educational needs and disability status, age, socio-economic status or even caregiving responsibilities. Knowing that there is such a substantial wellbeing divide between children on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity means that teachers, charities, practitioners and parents can respond to that evident need and prioritise support accordingly. This incredibly valuable insight and the potential for it to better target aid to the children who need it most clearly contributes to the case that wellbeing measurement should be rolled out as standard in schools across the UK. 

If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, there is support available from a wide range of organisations detailed here