Affirming and Educational Messages to Uplift LGBTQ+ Youth
For the LGBTQ+ community June is Pride Month, which is a time of celebrating and affirming diverse gender and sexual identities, as well as promoting advocacy for equality and representation. Sometimes it can be challenging to know how to best express your support and lift up the LGBTQ+ youth in your life. The below information may serve as a starting point to learn and to open discussion, organized from A to Z.
- Allies are people who are in your corner, uplifting the LGBTQ+ community in a variety of ways, often emphasizing inclusion and belonging, social justice, and human rights. Being an ally doesn’t mean understanding what it feels like to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, nor does it mean being perfect. Still, the overall goals of an ally are to acknowledge and provide support to your challenges and to amplify your voice using their privilege.
- Biological sex characteristics are only a part of gender identity. The sex someone is designated at birth is typically based only on the appearance of external genitalia.
- Continuum is important in thinking about gender and sexuality. Research has shown that gender and sexuality exist as fluid and multidimensional spectrums; not as binaries or single choices like ‘male or female’, ‘gay or straight.’ Anyone’s identity is complex and valid!
- DSD refers to Differences in Sexual Development that can occur while a baby is growing during pregnancy. DSD can present differently and at different times in a child’s life (birth or at puberty). Some people with DSD may identify as Intersex or androgynous.
- Expression may be thought of as the external display of one’s gender or sexuality, communicated through a combination of attitude or demeanor, clothing and accessories, social behavior, and other factors. Expression can shift over time and can be an exciting and dynamic way to reflect one’s personality and self.
- Fluidity refers to aspects of oneself that may shift or change over time, flowing between and among labels (female or male, bi, straight or gay, etc.). Some people in the LGBTQ+ community may refer to themselves as gender-fluid or express fluid-sexuality, highlighting the diversity in their personhood.
- Gender identity is one’s psychological sense of self as female, male, some/all, or neither. Gender identity is impacted by chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, secondary sex characteristics (like body hair), experiences, culture, and emotions. In other words, gender identity is how individuals perceive themselves. This may be the same or different from the sex designated at birth.
- Heteronormativity refers to the pervasive and false assumption that everyone is heterosexual (straight), and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Heteronormativity can create significant challenges and discrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals. Remember that just because something is prevalent in our culture, doesn’t mean that is true or healthy.
- Identity formation is a process that involves awareness, exploration, creating meaning, and integration. While it can be stressful to think deeply about oneself, there are no right or wrong answers or processes. A person is an expert on themselves, including when they shift and change.
- Just being one’s self is enough. They don’t have to know every acronym or have the answer to every question about their identity, orientation, or preferences. Their sense of self right now is the right place to be.
- Kindness and openness can go far in supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Approach discussions with respectful thoughtfulness and it can make a big difference.
- Literature may be a source of inspiring, stimulating, and fun content that also offers meaningful representation and relatability. There are many reading lists highlighting books for LGBTQ+ youth, including The Rainbow Book List and YA Pride Books.
- Misgendering occurs when someone intentionally or unintentionally uses incorrect pronouns or labels to describe another person. Misgendering can be avoided by referring to someone directly by their name, asking preferred pronouns, or using neutral pronouns like they/them.
- Nonconformity is a broad term communicating that one’s experience does not correspond with mainstream, or typical, experiences. Nonconformity can be used in reference to gender, sexuality, and other aspects of one’s identity or traits.
- Orientation indicates a person’s emotional and/or romantic attraction or erotic response. Sexual orientations include lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight, pansexual, asexual, polysexual, sapiosexual, queer, etc. It’s common for labels of sexual orientation to shift over time.
- Policies on a federal and state level impact LGBTQ+ youth in a significant way. Although laws and policies vary on a state-to-state basis, youth.gov provides a starting point for learning more about your specific area.
- Queerness has a storied history. Along with the word ‘gay,’ the term ‘queer’ has shifted meaning with time and cultural changes. Currently, queer is most often viewed as an umbrella term for individuals who are not heterosexual or cisgender and is often used in an empowering way within the LGBTQ+ community.
- “Remember this, whoever you are, however you are, you are equally valid, equally justified, and equally beautiful.” – Juno Dawson
- Society impacts identity development. Through direct and indirect messages, people are told how they “should” behave, look, or think. These powerful messages can be harmful and it can often be helpful to discuss them directly.
- Trans* identities are not “just having a moment.” People have identified as other or integrated genders for hundreds of years. Some societies have long recognized and also revered ‘third gender’ or Two Spirit identities. All identities are worthy of being acknowledged and celebrated.
- Umbrella terms like gay, queer, and trans may have different meanings or levels of acceptance in specific LGBTQ+ communities. It is encouraged to ask individuals how they prefer to be addressed or how they identify themselves.
- Visibility is often an impactful part of any civil rights movement. It may be inspiring to learn about important advocates in LGBTQ+ history. Consider looking up Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Andrea Jenkins, Marsha P. Johnson, Billie Jean King, and Audre Lorde.
- When and how someone chooses to discuss their sexuality and gender should be on their own timeline. Patience and respect is an important part of offering support and allyship to LGBTQ+ youth.
- Xe/Xir, Zie/Zir, They/Them are gender-neutral pronouns that could feel like a better fit for many people than he/his or she/her.
- Youth is time for learning about oneself – beliefs, likes or dislikes, identity, etc. It may be helpful for youth to reflect on where they are now, what they value, and what is important to them. It’s healthy to take time to focus on themselves.
- Zero need to change one’s identity! They are exactly as they should be!
Support and allyship for LGBTQ+ youth can take many forms. If your interactions are grounded in care, openness, and humility, you will be on the right track. Psychologists Kristopher Goodrich and Misty Ginicola noted two important overall messages to communicate to LGBTQ+ individuals: “You live in a flawed culture that does not always accept others who are different…”, and importantly, “There is nothing wrong with who you are or how you feel.”
For more information, visit Joon's resources page where we provide content for teen mental health and the lgbtq+ community.