5 steps to take today to support LGBTQ youth
By: Nina Rains and Brenden Wynn
Did you know?
- Mental health and suicide are on the rise for pre-teens and teens, especially those that identify on the LGBTQ spectrum.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24, and LGBTQ youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
- The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health 2021 showed that 42% of the 35,000 LGBTQ youth surveyed (ages 13 – 24) seriously considered suicide in 2020. These statistics were notably higher for LGBTQ youth of color.
- The report also exposed that during 2020, nearly half of youth who identify as LGBTQ wanted counseling from a mental health professional and were unable to receive it.
The LGBTQ identity is not the cause of these challenges. In fact, LGBTQ youth are typically well adjusted and mentally healthy. These higher rates are more likely the result of stigma including bias, discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors associated with how they are treated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This treatment can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, as well as to suicide and self-harming behavior.
While the numbers from The Trevor Project’s survey aren’t necessarily higher than results from previous years, they demonstrate that the progress on LGBTQ issues that we’ve experienced on a national scale may not be having an impact on the daily lives of our younger community members.
Improving the experience and mental health of LGBTQ youth
One key to improving the experience and mental health of LGBTQ youth may be found in the creation of affirming and supportive spaces. Recognizing the importance a supporting adult can play in fostering an affirming environment for LGBTQ youth is essential for reducing mental health disparities.
One supportive adult: We know that when youth who identify as LGBTQ have at least one supporting adult in their life, thoughts of suicide or self-harm decrease by 40%. Only one in three LGBTQ youth report that their home is an affirming environment, there is ample opportunity to curate supportive and safe spaces in schools, athletic teams, libraries, healthcare spaces, and beyond.
Inclusive environments: When asked, youth who identify as LGBTQ share that inclusive school curriculum, seeing rainbow flags and stickers in public, representation in media, seeing organizations support Pride, and having affirming adults in their lives are among the things that bring them happiness and strength. As adults, we have a responsibility to encourage, affirm, and support these younger members of our community. If we listen carefully, they are telling us how.
5 steps to take today to support LGBTQ youth:
1. Listen to LGBTQ youth
Take the time to listen without judgment and learn from LGBTQ youth. Keep in mind that LGBTQ youth are diverse and express themselves in a variety of ways. The experience and expression of one LGBTQ youth will not represent the whole, so it is important to listen to each youth and honor their own personal expression.
2. Be a role model for kindness and inclusion
Don’t tolerate any kind of hateful speech or behaviors and speak up if you witness bullying or harassment of any kind.
3. Show young people that they can be authentic around you
Look for ways that you can demonstrate to the young people in your life that they can be themselves around you. Avoid making assumptions about a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. If you’re not LGBTQ, come out as a supporter of LGBTQ equality. Make sure LGBTQ youth know you believe there is nothing wrong with who they are or how they identify and that you believe they have a place in our society.
4. Take action at the local level to create safe spaces
More than half of LGBTQ youth say they are now more motivated than ever to help others. Let’s make sure that they feel empowered to do so. Consider your community and some of the places where youth spend time -- are they safe for LGBTQ youth? How can you make a difference?
5. Stay informed and get involved
We face a long and difficult fight ahead to protect the historic progress we’ve made toward ensuring full LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ youth are counting on you. To learn more, you can visit these websites: