Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Bryan N. Cochran

Commitee Members

Cameo Borntrager, Jennifer S. Robohm, Annie Sondag, Nadine Wisniewski


gay-straight alliance, high school, LGBT youth, mental health, sexual minority youth, substance abuse


University of Montana


Sexual minority youth are at-risk for engaging in negative health behaviors and for experiencing at-school victimization. Specific benefits of attending a high school with a gay-straight student alliance (GSA), including lower risk for suicide, fewer alcohol problems and lower levels of psychological distress, have been reported. Limitations in the previous research studies, especially the use of retrospective designs, small sample sizes, and samples limited to a single geographic region, call into question the generalizability of these benefits. In an effort to overcome the aforementioned limitations, this analysis of data from 316 sexual minority high school students identified individual/family-, community-, and school-level variables that predicted academic, mental health, and substance use outcomes. After controlling for these and other demographic variables, results indicate that youth attending a high school with a GSA reported more favorable substance use outcomes when compared to peers attending a high school without a GSA. However, this association was not present when examining mental health outcomes, which may indicate that GSAs promote favorable mental heath outcomes in sexual minority young adults by way of reduced substance use in late adolescence. This association may also be the result of undetected interaction effects or non-linear associations among predictor and outcome variables. Practical and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed, along with suggestions for future research. Important limitations of this study are reviewed.



© Copyright 2013 Nicholas Christopher Heck