Pride Month 2019 may be over, but we celebrate Pride, the LGBTQ+ community, and the right to love whomever we choose all year round. One of the most crucial parts of being an ally is believing, practicing, and spreading the message that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. We know that when teenagers and young people feel supported, it can make a world of difference for them. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ youth. There’s even data that proves just how much of an impact it can make.
A new report from the Trevor Project — the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for young LGBTQ+ people —shows that more than 1.8 million American LGBTQ+ youths, ages 13 to 24, contemplate suicide every year — that’s a rate four times higher than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. However, another report from the Trevor Project shows that when a young member of the LGBTQ+ community has an accepting adult in their life, it can significantly improve their mental health. In the last year, LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one supportive adult were 40 percent less likely to attempt suicide.
Joe Lee, a 25-year-old actor from Tucson, Ariz, tells O.school about an adult he credits with having saved his life: a director at the theater camp he attended every summer in high school.
“He was the first person to celebrate the things that made me different,” Lee says. “The thing that kept me from veering my Honda Civic into oncoming traffic during my 30-minute commute to and from school on a daily basis was knowing that I had a safe place for a month every year where I didn’t have to worry.”
Now, a decade later, Lee is an out and proud gay man. And he still remembers his theatre camp director’s encouraging words.
“The summer before my senior year, he said the thing that convinced me to move to New York City and basically changed my life: ‘Nobody is going to make space for you in this industry, but you can make it for yourself.’ Now that I’m moving [from New York] to LA, I’m thinking about this more and more. He was absolutely right, and I’ve been making my own space ever since.”
So, how can *you* better support LGBTQ+ youth?
While a child or teen who identifies as LGBTQ+ may never reach out to talk, just knowing someone believes in them and supports their rights makes a big difference. Let them know you support them and their rights by:
Never assuming their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Ask questions. What pronouns do they prefer? What language feels good for them to describe themselves? Megan Healy, a sexual health educator, tells O.school, “Try not to make assumptions about a youth’s identity — take the time to ask them which gender pronouns they are using at that time and make an effort to use it in front of them to affirm their gender.”
Creating a more inclusive environment.
If you’re a teacher, on your first day of school, ask your students to share their pronouns along with their names. That way, you’re normalizing how we share and ask for pronouns in a way that doesn’t feel like any one person is being excluded. Also display LGBTQ+ posters, buttons, or stickers in your classroom to communicate that this is a safer space for them. Healy tells O.school, “Depending on the role of the adult being an ally, offering a space for queer youth to leave something (like books, stickers, flags, make-up, or even a binder) can provide them safety if they can’t bring that identity-validating item home.”
When spending time with younger family members, you can make a meaningful impact by checking your own reactions and body language in response to LGBTQ+ representation in real life or the media.
Choosing your language wisely.
The words we use with and around kids and teens conditions them to associate words, terms, and names a certain way. For example, instead of asking “Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?” you should ask “Are you dating anyone?” Similarly, you can say “Hey, everyone,” instead of “Hey, guys” or “Hey, ladies and gentlemen” when referring to groups (this includes email greetings). That way, you’re not using assumptive language.
You can sign up to volunteer with the Trevor Project and either speak with young people who are struggling or contribute to local, state, and federal campaigns that fight for LGBTQ+ policies and laws. As a teacher or parent, you can also become an advisor for Gay Straght Alliance (GSA) at a school.
These are just a few of the ways you can advocate and show support for LGBTQ+ youth and communities in your life. Check out this page for more ideas on how to support LGBTQ+ youth from Lambda Legal, the UNC Student Affairs’ LGBTQ Center, or the Human Rights Campaign page, “How to be an LGBT Ally.”
If you or a loved one are in need of support, you can call the TrevorLifeLine at 866-488-7386. You can also chat or text someone at the organization who can offer help.