Tips for Professionals Working with LGBTQ+ Youth
1. Don’t be surprised when a young person comes out to you. They have probably tested you with a series of trial balloons over a period of time. Based on your previous responses they’ve decided you can be trusted and helpful.
2. Respect confidentiality. If a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ+) young person shares with you information about their sexual orientation or gender identity, you have a trust that must be respected.
3. Be informed & examine your own biases. Most of us are the products of a homophobic and transphobic society influenced by misinformation and fear. Seek out good sources of information, read reliable materials, and talk to qualified persons.
4. Know when and where to seek help. Know the referral agencies and counselors in your area. LGBTQ+ helplines can provide you with professional persons and organizations that are qualified to help. Tell them who you are and what kind of assistance you need. They’ll be helpful and fair. You can reach PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools Program at 646-403-3197.
5. Understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity. Each person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is what is natural to that person. Everyone has both a gender identity and a sexual orientation, whether they’re straight, cisgender, or LGBTQ+. People do not choose to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer; they simply are.
6. Deal with feelings first. Most LGBTQ+ youth at some point feel alone, afraid and sometimes guilty. You can assist by listening, allowing them to release feelings and thoughts that are often in conflict.
7. Be supportive. Explain that many people have struggled with these issues. Admit that dealing with one’s sexuality or a gender identity that is different from one’s birth sex is difficult. There are no easy and fast answers, whether heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer. Keep the door open for more conversations and assistance. Be aware that so-called “reparative therapy” has been discredited by all major mental health professional associations and can be harmful. While some groups promote it, it is not a credible way of offering support.
8. Anticipate some confusion. Most youth are sure of their sexual orientation by the time they reach eighth grade. Gender identity develops for many young people much earlier, but for others it come into focus only later. Everyone’s timeline is their own. Some young people will be confused and unsure. They have to work through their own feeling and insights; you can’t talk them into, or out of, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
9. Help, but do not force. If you are heterosexual or cisgender (comfortable with your birth sex), you probably do not understand what it means to be different in these ways. Clues for how you can help will come from the young person. Don’t force him or her into your frame of reference to make it easier for you to understand.
10. Don’t try to guess who is LGBTQ+. It is not helpful for you or for the youth you serve. We live in a world of stereotypes that do people an injustice; do not be tempted to perpetuate old myths.
11. Challenge homophobic and transphobic remarks and jokes. Speak up when someone makes disparaging remarks about LGBTQ+ people, or thoughtlessly uses disparaging language, just as you would any other slurs. Don’t perpetuate injustice through silence.