Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) youth face tremendous difficulties growing up in a society where heterosexuality is often presented as the only acceptable orientation, and homosexuality is regarded as deviant. Research suggests that homophobia and heterosexism greatly contribute to higher rates of suicide, violence victimization, risk behavior for HIV infection, and substance abuse among GLBTQ youth as compared to their heterosexual peers.
- It is estimated that in the U.S., a teen takes their own life every 5 hours because they are gay, bisexual, transgender, or lesbian, and cannot deal with the added stresses that society puts upon them.
- Several studies have found that approximately 40% of homeless “street” teens self-identify as gay/lesbian yet there are relatively few resources specifically aimed at meeting their needs.
- Homeless GLBTQ teens face increased risk for a variety of health and emotional problems.
- GLBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than non-gay teens, according to a 1989 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study.
- The same study found that 30 percent of successful teen suicides are by gay or lesbian youths.
- GLBTQ youth are attacked at alarmingly high rates nationwide.
- Queer youth are more likely to be attacked physically.
- Queer youth are at increased risk for drug/alcohol problems and dropping out of school.
- An estimated 40% of street kids are lesbian or gay. These youth have either run away or been thrown out of their homes. Many get involved with prostitution and other abusive behaviors as a way of surviving
- Many bisexual, gay and lesbian youth drop out of school due to harassment or low self-esteem, and fear of “being found out.”
- Studies have found that more than 25% of gay and lesbian youth have severe drug and alcohol problems.
- Those who believe they don’t know someone who is gay are more likely than those who do to reject equal rights for, and equal treatment of, GLBTQ people.
- Early exposure to diversity and sexuality issues helps to reduce prejudice and homophobia, including internalized homophobia which often leads to self-destructive behaviors.
- Teenagers and young adults are among the leading perpetrators of anti-gay violence.
Here are a few suggestions for how to respond when a youth reveals their bisexual or same-sex-oriented sexual orientation
- Recognize that there are many gay, bisexual, and lesbian young people. Until now, you may not have been aware of your their sexual orientation but this is the same child they were before coming out to you.
- Be yourself.
- Remember that the child may be terribly afraid since most teens know society says they are “wrong.”
- Use the vocabulary they use. If they say “homosexual,” follow their lead. Likewise, if they say “gay” or “lesbian,” use that term. Use the term “same-sex feeling” if they appear uneasy with other vocabulary.
- Be aware of your comfort and limitations. Do not add pain resulting from your judgment about sexuality, in general, or homosexuality, in particular.
- Do your homework. Find out about sexuality and sexual orientation. PFLAG, a support organization for parents, can help: http://www.pflag.org
- Remember, it doesn’t take a homosexual adult to help a homosexual child.
- Thank the child for trusting you.
- You have an obligation to respect the child’s right to privacy and confidentiality. Don’t discuss their personal details with others.
If the child is having trouble with harassment or abuse because of their sexual orientation, complete an incident report and refer the child to the national Gay & Lesbian Hate Crimes Hotline (208-246-2292). Call the RCASA Hotline for additional resources (540)371-1666.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the child have friends he or she can trust with the information?
- Do parents know? What would happen if they knew?
- If parents cannot be supportive, are there other adults available for support?
- How do you know?
- Are you sure?
- You will get over it when the right man/woman comes along.
- I don’t agree with it, but I still like you.
- Have you tried dating the opposite sex?
- You will grow out of it. It’s only a phase.
- Do you think God is punishing you?
- Some of my best friends are.
- Have you tried to change?
- I accept you, but I don’t agree with your choice.
- You are not normal! You are sick.
- You don’t look like one.
- How did that happen?
- Don’t you want to have children?
- I don t want to hear about it.
- You do have a problem.
- What is wrong with you?
- You are going to get AIDS. It’s a gay disease.
- I don’t dislike homosexuals. It’s what they do that I dislike.
- Your family will reject you. You won’t be able to have a happy life.
- Why don’t you try to act more masculine (or feminine)?
- You will embarrass the family.
- Your parents won t love you.
- You need counseling.
- Where did I go wrong? (Parent)
- Why are you doing this?
- I am so sorry for you.
- You’ll never have a loving, long-lasting relationship.
In recent years, however, a number of promising programs have been established to help GLBTQ youth gain the skills and support they need to develop into healthy adults in a society that largely rejects them. These programs strive to create safer and more inclusive environments for sexual minority youth, provide access to accurate information concerning sexual orientation, AIDS, and gender issues, promote responsible and healthy behaviors among GLBTQ youth, reduce the damaging effects of misinformation and homophobia in our society and in our homes, and provide learning and growing opportunities to our queer, queer-friendly, and questioning youth.
Check out some of these websites for more information;