How Can Parents, Caregivers and Educators Support LGBTQ Youth Mental Health?

LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to die by suicide than their peers

  • LGBTQ rainbow paint hands

In 2021, The Trevor Project conducted a National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, gathering data from over 35,000 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) youth, ages 13-24, across the United States. The report indicates that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to die by suicide than their peers, with a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ youth of color; 31% of Native and Indigenous youth as well as 21% of Black youth attempted suicide compared to 12% of their white peers. Forty-two percent of LGBTQ youth reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months with at least one of these youth attempting suicide every 45 seconds. Meaning, in the time it will take you to read this post, three or more LGBTQ youth will have tried to take their life. 

A 2019 National School Climate Survey, published by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), indicates that LGBTQ youth in the state of New Hampshire do not feel safe in schools due to a lack of inclusivity and representation within curricula and policies. Forty-nine percent of LGBTQ youth reported verbal harassment targeting their gender identity and gender expression and 63% reported verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation. 

Causality

There are several factors to consider when trying to understand why LGBTQ youth are at elevated risk for self-harm and suicide. Typically governed by state and local policy, schools have become political battlegrounds, limiting, if not completely denying, accessibility to supportive and inclusive practices. The Trevor Project reported in 2021 that 94% of LGBTQ youth indicated that the political climate negatively impacted their mental health.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) Research Institute, in partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), reported that in 2020, LGBTQ youth of color endure victimization and discrimination, from peers and school staff, based on their race and/or ethnicity in addition to homophobic and transphobic policies and behaviors. This disproportionately disrupts their learning through inequitable disciplinary procedures and increased absences, resulting in lower achievement scores and higher dropout rates.  

A Call to Action

Three ways Parents, Caregivers and Educators Can Support LGBTQ Youth:

1. Listen

One of the easiest ways to support LGBTQ youth is to actively listen to their needs. To quote Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental.” This means accepting their gender identity and sexual orientation instead of treating them like a passing phase or stage of development. It means being aware of your own biases and acknowledging their impact, especially when trying to support a youth in need. You can show both verbal and nonverbal support in the form of asking open-ended questions like, “How did that make you feel? or “What would be helpful?” and providing affirming language in response like, “I support you.” or “Thank you for being honest with me.” Demonstrate your nonverbal support by actively engaging in the conversation with them. Stop what you’re doing, face them while they’re speaking and provide your full, uninterrupted attention.

2. Learn

Educate yourself. Utilize the growing library of research and literature to familiarize yourself with inclusive language through reputable sites like The Trevor Project or The Safe Zone Project, both of which provide ally trainings to further your education. Learn your state’s laws around protecting LGBTQ youth as well as the policies within the places youth frequent most, like schools and community centers. Be open to feedback and accept when you inadvertently misrepresented someone’s gender or assumed something about their identity. Understand LGBTQ youth aren’t inherently educators and advocates, but instead developing adolescents who are tasked with the added responsibility of navigating a society that doesn’t always support them. In other words, meet them halfway through independent learning mixed with active listening and participation. Lastly, be patient with yourself. No one is expecting you to know everything and to always get it right. Operating within such absolutes can not only be discouraging, but it can also be the source of burnout, derailing efforts to become more informed and inclusive.

3. Lead

Provide leadership and representation in a variety of forms. As mentioned above, allowing youth to lead these important conversations might not feel like a form of leadership, but by playing more of a passive role, through facilitation, you’re providing them the proverbial “seat at the [adult] table.” It also demonstrates your support and willingness to learn, which are two key ingredients in effective leadership.

Providing resources with LGBTQ representation baked into the content is perhaps one of the easiest ways for youth to know you’re aware of their needs. For instance, highlighting LGBTQ artists, athletes, musicians, authors, and actors will not only create an inclusive environment, but also let the youth know they’re not alone.  

Get involved. Whether it’s within your household or the House of Representatives, identify areas in need of assistance and seek out opportunities to provide education and support. Attend school board meetings and advocate for inclusive policies and curriculum. Practice a zero-tolerance policy with regards to anti-LGBTQ language and behavior by calling out discrimination as soon as you see and hear it. While it can be uncomfortable holding those around you accountable for their words and actions, not saying something can lead to severe consequences in the lives of LGBTQ youth.

Resources to Learn More and Get Involved

1. Seacoast Outright

Through educational programs, annual Pride celebrations and youth support groups, Seacoast Outright’s mission has always been to create a safe space for youth to explore the topics of gender and sexuality in a welcoming and understanding environment.

Explore Seacoast Outright

2. PFLAG NH

Parents, families, friends and allies united with the LGBTQ+ community to move equality forward in the Granite State. PFLAG NH provides support to parents, children and friends who are coming to terms with their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning loved ones.

Explore PFLAG NH

3. The University of New Hampshire Safe Zones

UNH Safe Zones is an educational program to raise awareness of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Aromantic, Pansexual and other (LGBTQIAP+) issues and contribute to a campus climate of inclusion at UNH.

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Author(s)

Kristin Eberl
Assoc Field Specialist
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824