How We Can Support LGBT Children
September 27, 2018
ChildSavers guides our community’s children through life’s critical moments with trauma-informed mental health and child development services. Let’s consider what we mean when we say “our community’s children.” In the Durso-Gates “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Homeless Youth Survey” completed in 2012, LGBT youth homelessness was most often related to family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Today, I want to discuss how this rejection impacts LGBT youth and how ChildSavers’ choice to claim these youth as our community’s children makes a difference.
Some LGBT youth are given the space and support they need to explore their gender, their attraction, and their self-expression. However, other LGBT youth report lower levels of parental closeness, higher rates of child abuse, less secure attachment, and increased homelessness when compared to heterosexual and cisgender youth. Sabra L. Katz-Wise, PhD, Margaret Rosario, PhD, and Michael Tsappis, MD discuss these results in their article “LGBT Youth and Family Acceptance.”
As ChildSavers supports child development and mental health, we understand the impact of attachment, homelessness, and abuse. We also understand the value of empowering the family system around a child to support the child in the long term. The difference for some LGBT youth is that the family system around them is unaccepting and uninterested in supporting their child.
There are many ways to promote caregivers’ acceptance and nurturance of their LGBT youth. We at ChildSavers have the opportunity to directly support those youth even if their families are not ready to do so.
Connect, Connect, Connect
In an article about 15 qualitative interviews with LGBT youth titled “Understanding Service Experiences of LGBTQ Young People through an Intersectional Lens,” M. Alex Wagaman found that many of the youth who participated in the interviews reported feeling isolated. As a ChildSavers therapist, when my clients experience isolation, I look to validate the youth’s feelings while listening for hope in their narrative.
For example, if a youth says, “All the kids at my school make fun of me and my gym teacher is the only one who ever does anything.” It would not be helpful for me to say, “At least your gym teacher is on your side!” I have to show that I heard everything the youth said– both the positive and the negative. By only reflecting the positive, I invalidate the client’s struggle.
I may instead choose to say, “It sounds like it’s really hard for you at your school because of how your peers treat you.” At a later time, I would return to the mention of the youth’s gym teacher. I would try to see if the gym teacher is a safe person for the youth to connect with at school.
Another concept in LGBT community, which Wagaman also mentions, is chosen family. When a youth experiences rejection from their family because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we can support them in connecting to a loving chosen family. This might be composed, for example, of the gym teacher, a mentor, close friends, and a Sunday School teacher. These folks do not replace the youth’s biological family but provide an additional resource of compassion and guidance.
Show Instead of Tell
Even though they feel alone, we know that this person is not the only LGBT youth in their community. Telling them that, however, may not be enough. There are ways in which we can aid this youth through connecting them to community or school- based support groups. We can help them find allies in schools such as a guidance counselor or a teacher. To ensure these potential resources and allies are a good fit, we can go with them to the support group or call the guidance counselor to set the tone before the child gets there.
We can also tell them how great the world out there is and how many loving people they’ll find. Or we can pull up Google and print off a list of resources and supports that we know might be helpful.
Another way that we can connect LGBT youth is to expose them to the positive experiences of other LGBT individuals. Show them what strength looks like in people like them. If the youth needs support with managing their anger or responding to bullying, the book you recommend they read should include an LGBT main character. For example, Better Nate Than Ever is a book about a young gay boy who experiences bullying for being different.
If an LGBT youth doesn’t believe they can be successful, show them successful LGBT people in the media such as singer, Janelle Monáe or actress, Alyson Stoner. It’s the difference between telling a 13-year-old transgender client that it’s okay for her to be herself, and reading through Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness together with that client.
Follow their Lead
As with all of our community’s children, ChildSavers has the opportunity to provide agency to the LGBT youth we work with. Initially, the most powerful way we can do this is by taking them at their word. Call them the name they want to be called. Use the pronouns they’d like to be recognized by.
If a youth tells you they are a boy, but does not want to cut their hair, do not question their boyhood. If a youth tells you that they are bisexual and experiencing bullying at school but their priority in their work with you is to find a speech therapist and improve their social skills, follow their lead.
Perhaps they feel they have a stable support system. Following their lead might also include supporting their leadership. Encourage them to become part of another queer youth’s support system.
On the other hand, maybe they are more passionate about their Girl Scout troop, their Sunday school class, or their soccer team. Encourage this youth’s leadership by recognizing their passions. Take the time to know them, connect them to what they need, and then build their strengths as children and building blocks of our community.
Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving our youth: Findings from a national survey of service providers working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
Katz-Wise, S. L., Rosario, M., Tsappis, M. (2016). LGBT youth and family acceptance. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 63(6), 1011-1025. Doi: 10.1016/j.pcl.2016.07.005.
Wagaman, M. A. (2014). Understanding service experiences of LGBTQ young people through an intersectional lens. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 26(1), 111-145. doi:10.1080/10538720.2013.866867
CasSandra Calin is a Mental Health Clinician who serves on the Immediate Response/Crisis Intervention Team at ChildSavers. Before coming to ChildSavers, CasSandra worked as an Intensive In Home and Mental Health Skill Building service provider.
CasSandra received her Bachelor’s in Arts in Sociology from University of Richmond and her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University.
CasSandra is passionate about the empowerment of marginalized communities through mental health support and psycho-education.