By Jo Ann Burson Preston, PhD, MDSW
|Understanding Gender Identity|
|Impact of Stigmatization of LGBT Youth|
|Empowerment of LGBT Youth|
|Where Do We Start?|
Adolescence is by far the most puzzling period of life. During adolescence, the very nature of self identity is questioned. Defining oneself during adolescence is not easy given the emotions, behaviors, and relationships that must be expressed in culturally acquired desires through socially acceptable channels.
In schools students interact far more than they used to. Some are still divided by the color of their skin, the language of their birth, the shape of their eyes and by their sexual identity. School is a student’s most integrated environment but socialization has not necessarily made being LGBT more acceptable or comfortable. School culture has brought into the foreground simmering conflicts about which many would much rather not talk.
Whether a baby is born a girl or a boy from this point forward the child will be expected to exhibit feminine or masculine attributes and to formulate a basis for the specific forms of sexual expression indicative of female or male in our society. Gender and sexuality are inextricably linked as gender is the single most important aspect of our personal identity.
We cannot think of ourselves without being aware that we are female or male nor relate to others without attaching the appropriate gender labels to them. We feel uncomfortable in the presence of someone whose sex is uncertain. We rely on the help of stereotypes to tell us what to expect from female and male. Gender identity affects all aspects of an adolescent’s personality and involves more than labels and patterns of behaviors that go with them. Attitudes, emotions, character traits, aptitudes and ambitions are woven into gender and integrated as part of “gender role.”
Unacceptable assimilation of LGBT shapes their lives from the moment they “come out” or exhibit questionable behaviors. Many LGBT youth are at risk and may experience issues related to:
- Substance abuse — used to relieve anxiety around sexual encounters, to fit in, to relieve tension, and to suppress possible mental health problems.
- Withdrawal and isolation — evident as there are limited opportunities to form positives experiences regarding coming out. LGBT youth might embrace stereotypical thinking and healthy relationships.
- Sucidiality is a major concern denying oneself and no avenue to enhance self esteem and embrace their sexuality.
- Safety issues — limited number of safe places to socialize without possibly fearing for one’s life. Violence is a common element reported that keeps many LGBT students from coming to school.
- Health — increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases due to lack of available education and LGBT youth failure to seek medical attention due to stigma and discrimination
- Offer safe places for them to reveal their concerns,
- Assess them for risks of suicide,
- Explore present and potential coping strategies,
- Validate their feelings, existence and experiences,
- Assess impact of LGBT identity and identify approach to manage feelings and actions,
- Assist to consolidate identity,
- Examine affects of LGBT on developmental stages,
- Explore and identify shame and its impact on coping skills,
- Assist them in identifying strengths, and
- Explore resources.
Lesbian, Gender, Bisexual, Transgender youth do not have many resources to assist them with their problems. Therefore, many LGBT youth must locate resources that are not specifically tailored and attuned to their concerns. Many health care professionals and therapists are uncomfortable with and ignorant to the needs that LGBT youth. This discomfort and ignorance often results in no service and inappropriate or lower quality care.
The good news is many schools, agencies, and urban cities are responding to the specific concerns of LBGT youth and attempting to alleviate the barriers that prevent LGBT from acculturating into mainstream society. Ideas that may help LGBT youth in schools and communities are:
- Continue to practice self education regarding LGBT youth,
- Educate your staff about the overt and subtle discrimination against LGBT youth,
- Compose an updated list of local and government resources,
- Do not assume all youth are heterosexual. Be cognizant to use gender friendly language,
- Advocate for inclusion of LGBT youth and families and do not support agencies that are not sensitize to the needs of this population. More importantly, teach Lesbian Gendered Bisexual Transgender youth and families to advocate for themselves,
- Always be respectful and maintain confidentiality, and
- Assist in developing school codes that establishes student to student sexual harassment policy.
- Intersex health – Intersex Society of North America, www.isna.org
- National Youth Advocacy Coalition www.nyacyouth.org
- National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Hotline 1-800- 347-Teen
- International Foundation for Gender Education www.ifge.org
- National Coalition for LGBT Health www.igbthealth.net
- A Providers Handbook on Culturally Competent Care Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Gendered Population Kaiser Permanente National Diversity Council and the Kaiser Permanente national Diversity Department 2000
- The Standards Of Care For Gender Identity Disorders Sixth edition. Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. Dusseldorf: Symposium Publishing, 2001 and http://www.wpath.org/
- International Journal of Transgenderism