How to Support LGBTQ+ Youth in 2023
Americans live in a time of growing societal rifts. One such yawning divide is on how we treat and view members of the LGBTQ+ community. The people who are most harmed by the backlash against the queer and transgender community are, predictably, children. Already disproportionally impacted by discriminatory practices and laws, LGBTQ+ youth are enduring a mental health crisis only exasperated by increased prejudice against even their very right to exist. We, as parents, as teachers, and as a society, must do better. Read on to learn more about how to support LGBTQ+ youth in 2023.
LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing a mental health crisis
I have been working in a high school environment as a school social worker in New Jersey since 2016. When I first started, I noticed that support for LGBTQ+ students in school was way more than I had noticed as a teenager. The schools I have worked in have Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (commonly referred to as, “GSAs”). Students identify by the name and pronouns of their choosing; not by the names and pronouns chosen by others at their birth. And if students want to change their name or pronouns, it is expected that we respect their wishes. And perhaps the most important change is that staff and students visibly show support for LGBTQ+ students and celebrate Pride Month.
Celebrating and embracing LGBTQ+ young people has been, and continues to be, crucial to the mental health of these young people. According to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021 and fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming.
A “State of Emergency” for LGBTQ+ People
I feel that cultural, political, and societal acceptance of LGBTQ+ young people is shifting…and not in a good way.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill unleashed a new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment that is gaining traction in many schools, even in safe haven states where LGBTQ+ rights are protected. From overtly banning any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics to subtle changes to school-based curriculum about sexual orientation and gender identification, schools are becoming political battlegrounds when they were previously safe havens.
The Human Rights Campaign has officially declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people. The suicide rates for LGBTQ+ adolescents are higher than their cisgender/heterosexual counterparts, so taking away their safe spaces and safe people will increase the mental health issues and rates of suicidal ideation in this population. The aforementioned study by The Trevor Project also reports that LGBTQ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide. The choices we adults make can save the lives of queer and transgender children.
How to support LGBTQ+ youth in 2023
The time is now to stand up for the mental health of all our children and students…but especially the most vulnerable. This is a call to action for all of the allies, all of the parents of LGBTQ+ students, all of the teachers, administrators, and school staff who want school to continue to be a safe place for ALL students to learn.
If you are a parent or guardian of an LGBTQ+ child, immediately take the following four actions to support the LGBTQ+ children in their lives:
- Get involved in your child’s school. Show up to school board meetings to advocate for your child’s needs. School board meetings hotly debate age-appropriate, inclusive sex education across all school levels. These conversations typically include whether gender identity and sexual orientation should even be discussed at school. School board members are often persuaded by the parents in the district, because they are the ones who vote to put them in office. Join the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and advocate for more school-wide initiatives to promote understanding and inclusion. The more voices that support LGBTQ+ students, the more likely the school board will support inclusive school-wide initiatives.
- Push for more inclusive education that allows for discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation as well as LGBTQ+ history as part of the curriculum. Many states already mandate these inclusions, but many schools are finding ways to minimize any inclusive changes to the curriculum.
- Demand that school staff receive continuing education on the needs of LGBTQ+ students. Many staff members are great allies; however, many are not. Offering more opportunities to learn about the needs of LGBTQ+ students, and how teachers and staff can be better allies will help shift the culture of the school as well as improve the support the students receive.
- Advocate for safe spaces for your child including GSAs, if one doesn’t already exist. Having a safe space to gather with other students who may have similar identities can help students feel a sense of camaraderie and support that other clubs and groups may not be able to provide.
If you are a teacher or other school personnel, immediately take the following actions to protect your queer and transgender students:
- Show students that you are a safe person and a safe place. Representation Matters. Use LGBTQ+ inclusive language in your teaching examples. For example, if you are writing work problems for a math class, incorporate gender-neutral pronouns into the problem. This could like something similar to the following: Ace finished a book. They calculated that they finished 90 more pages than they have yet to read. How long is their book?
- Be a role model. Students look up to you, and you set the tone for your classroom or school environment. Use your student’s pronouns and chosen name. If you misgender a student, correct yourself. Address bullying and discrimination of LGBTQ+ students in real time. Offer to educate other staff members who may be struggling to support LGBTQ+ students.
- Get support. If you’re struggling with supporting LGBTQ+ students, whether for personal, political, or other reasons, find a network that will support your growth. If your personal network is not supportive, find a professional who can help.
- Attend school board meetings to show your support for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the curriculum from a staff perspective.
- Know which resources in the area are LGBTQ+ inclusive, and make referrals when needed to support your students. Important national resources include GLSEN, PFLAG, and The Trevor Project. If you are in the Philadelphia region, consider The Attic Youth Center, The Mazzoni Center, and The Pride Center of NJ.
When our children, especially our LGBTQ+ children, feel accepted, celebrated, loved, and safe, their mental health will thrive. And when our children thrive, our society as a whole can truly thrive.
About the Author
Danielle Silverman, LCSW, MEd, is a Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships. If you have questions for Danielle about how to support LGBTQ+ youth in 2023, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with her, you may reach her at email@example.com or 215-382-6680 ext. 7015.
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