LGBTQIA+ young people are at a high risk for becoming victims of violence. Studies found that 30% to 70% of gay youth have experienced verbal or physical assaults at school. They may also be called names, harassed by others, or rejected by friends and family. Transgender people, particularly trans women of color, face shockingly high rates of murder, homelessness, and incarceration. Most states and countries offer no legal protections in housing, employment, healthcare, and other areas where individuals experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression.
Addressing homophobia / transphobia from friends or family
Your young person’s safety and well-being must come first. While you may not choose to completely cut off transphobic friends or family members, be mindful of what information you share with them. Just as you have the choice to keep these people in your life, your young person has the same choice. If your young person chooses to remove unsupportive people from their close circle, you must respect this and understand they are choosing to protect themselves.
If someone mistreats or misgenders them
It is important for all LGBTQIA+ young people to see that supportive caregivers do exist and there are adults who validate and care about their identities. If your young person is mistreated, stand up for them. Take care not to minimize the social pressure or bullying they may be facing. If someone misgenders your young person, correct them. If your young person prefers, you can politely and firmly tell the person how your young person prefers to be identified. You can find out more about pronouns and misgendering language here.
Bullying & LGBTQIA+ Youth
Bullying directed at LGBTQIA+ young people is unfortunately very common, and it can lead to a host of mental health issues including anxiety and depression. Inclusionary programs and involvement on the part of all people, LGBTQIA+ or not, can have a positive impact in reducing bullying and harassment.
Signs your young person is experiencing bullying:
- Changes in behavior (an outgoing, sociable young person becomes withdrawn, irritable, and moody)
- Changes in usual sleeping patterns, constant tiredness or fatigue
- Appearing restless or anxious, or expressing feelings of worry or hopelessness
- Physical symptoms such as a stomach ache or headache
- Losing interest in usual activities
- Problems at school: declining grades, unexplained absences, discipline or behavioral problems
- Sudden changes in who is a friend and who’s not
- Engagement in risk behavior that’s out of character for your young person (drug use, new sexual partner)
If your young person shows any of these signs, reach out to a teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator, your local LGBTQ+ support group, or call/text one of the crisis lines listed below for advice.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800) 273-8255
- For the Deaf or Hard of Hearing: 711 or 1(800) 273-8255
- TrevorLifeline: 1(866) 488-7386
- TrevorChat Online: www.TheTrevorProject.org
- TrevorChat SMS: Text START to 678-678
- International Support: www.FindAHelpline.com
If your school is not adequately addressing harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. Reach out to the school superintendent, State Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, or the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. For tips on how to help your young person avoid and address bullying visit www.StopBullying.gov.
How to advocate for LGBTQIA+ youth at school
Young people spend almost as much time in the classroom as they do at home. To make sure LGBTQ+ young people are safe and comfortable at school, you can:
- Advocate for a gay-straight alliance (GSA) if your school doesn’t have one already. GSAs have been shown to make schools safer and boost academic performance among LGBTQ+ students.
- Stay in frequent contact with teachers so you’ll know when issues arise.
- Push for more inclusive sex education. Very few schools provide LGBTQIA+ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy. Do your own research or connect your young person with LGBTQIA+ support organizations in order to fill the gaps.
- Don’t hesitate to speak up. Caregivers do have power and a voice in the school system. If there is a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, you may need to go to the principal or even the school board.
Other LGBTQIA+ Issues & Concerns
Bathroom bans are laws that force transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth. There have been no reported cases of transgender individuals harming others in bathrooms matching their gender. It is dangerous for your young person to use a bathroom that doesn’t match their gender identity. Transgender men who are forced to use female bathrooms experience distressing confrontations, and transgender women forced to used male bathrooms have a higher risk of physical and sexual assault.
Gender in Sports
In sports, controversy has arisen with some people questioning if transgender athletes should compete as their identifying gender or their gender assigned at birth. If your young person is a transgender athlete, remind them that their skills and talents are just as important, valid, and needed as any other sportsperson. Trans athletes should be allowed to compete in sports, so if an issue arises at school you may need to advocate for your young person.
Many Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (or TERFs) believe that transgender women should not be included in women’s issues or have a voice when it comes to critical women’s decisions. There has been lots of controversy surrounding this issue and if you want to learn more, information can be found online.