As an organization that supports children who have experienced trauma, it’s important to remember that every child’s experience is different. Those in the LGBTQ community need your help more than ever to overcome LGBTQ trauma.
June is a time when we celebrate the LGBTQ community. But Pride Month doesn’t end on July 1st. We need to support our children all year. Rainbow flags and pride shirts are a great way to send a message to LGBTQ children that they are supported. But the issues facing LGBTQ youth are staggering. Homelessness, being disowned by their families, substance use, bullying, religious groups trying to “pray the gay away,” and a general feeling that they don’t belong.
There are programs out there for LGBTQ youth. Your organization might offer one or some of them. If so, you need to know that many LGBTQ youth face hardships and trauma. It’s your job to ensure that your organization doesn’t perpetuate that trauma.
Many young people who identify as LGBTQ don’t have strong support systems. They may not have families who accept them. School may not feel safe. In fact, many places probably don’t feel safe.
Homelessness is one of the issues facing LGBT youth. Twenty-eight percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced housing instability or homelessness at some point in their lives. And that’s just the numbers that have been reported. Many experience depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal ideation.
Other problems LGBTQ youth face are addiction and substance use disorder. For some, the drug of choice is a prescription, like Adderall, Xanax, or Valium. There’s also a greater chance for LGBTQ youth to use marijuana and get involved in underage drinking.
Many LGBTQ youth are driven to addiction because of bullying, harassment, and lack of parental support. If they don’t feel safe in their home, school, church, or even walking down the street, it can be hard to learn healthy coping skills.
This is why organizations like yours are so important. You celebrate Pride in June, which is great. But we need to continue the celebration of the LGBTQ community all year. LGBTQ youth need to meet other people in their community. Both peers and adults. They need a place where they can feel safe and is bully and harassment-free.
Much of the LGBTQ trauma that young people experience results from of a lack of acceptance and actual hostility toward those who identify as LGBTQ. This is why it’s so important to offer programs to youth where they can feel supported, safe, and accepted.
Some LGBTQ youth have experienced adverse childhood experiences, including sexual assault. For many, this can be not just traumatizing, but incredibly confusing. Some youth may wonder if their sexual orientation is a byproduct of sexual abuse. For example, if a young male-identifying youth who is sexually attracted to other males was sexually assaulted by a man when he was younger, he may wonder if he’s gay because of that experience.
That kind of trauma for LGBTQ youth runs deep. In order for your organization to help LGBTQ youth, you need to understand how far-reaching trauma is for people in the LGBTQ community. Particularly children.
If you are looking for more information and resources to support the youth that you work with, here are some organizations to check out:
- The Trevor Project helps people in the LGBTQ community work to end suicide.
- True Colors Fund works to stop LGBTQ homelessness.
- Massachusetts’ Commission LGBTQ Youth provides information on effective policies, programs, and resources for LGBTQ youth
- The Massachusetts General Hospital Transgender Health Program provides resources for transgender individuals at or outside of Massachusetts General Hospital
- The Stonewall Center, through the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is an LGBTQIA+ resource center for western Massachusetts
- Kiva Centers, a nationally recognized peer-led and trauma-informed organization, offers services throughout Massachusetts
Acceptance and safety are two of the most important things. The trauma these kids endure daily just by being themselves is not just heartbreaking, it’s downright wrong. You can help put an end to that by ensuring your organization is an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTQ youth, and by letting them know who their safe point people are. If this feels overwhelming to you or you don’t know where to start, we have a few quick and easy things to implement.
- Provide programs specifically for LGBTQ youth.
- Ensure that your programs, LGTBQ-focused or not, welcome all sexual and gender orientations.
- Educate yourselves on the LGBTQ community.
- Allow the kids to express their truest, most unapologetic versions of themselves.
- Welcome it with open arms.
Many of the problems LGBTQ youth face are a result of a lack of acceptance. Children and teens are so impressionable that even one instance of bullying, harassment, or feeling unwanted and unloved because of their sexual orientation or gender expression can be traumatizing.
We need to be better than organizations that re-traumatize kids by not understanding how to help them. Give them a safe space to talk and explore their identity. They deserve that at the very least. For many LGBTQ youth, the experience, particularly at that age, can be confusing and scary. All they may know is that they’re different, but they’re just trying to be themselves. And when it isn’t ok to be yourself, that’s when kids turn to other avenues of numbing the pain.
You can help. Just by being here and reading this article, you’re already helping. Provide services and programs that show them that life in the LGBTQ community can be wonderful. Help them see that there is a community.
- Educate them about Pride and the amazing people in this world who are in the LGBTQ community doing wonderful things
- Identify celebrities who are queer, non-binary, and transgendered
- Help them see themselves in other people who are successful adults in safe, loving relationships with either their partners or themselves.
At the Center of Child Wellbeing & Trauma, we provide organizations like yours with tools to help with the issues facing LGBTQ youth. It’s important for us to educate others to help them provide safe and supportive environments, help coming out to their parents, and teach effective coping skills related to LGBTQ discrimination.
The Center on Child Wellbeing & Trauma is a resource for child-serving organizations in Massachusetts. We deliver trauma-informed and responsive information, tools, and training. Learn more at www.childwellbeingandtrauma.org.