Supporting Queer, Trans, and Questioning Youth

by Amanda Rohdenburg, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont
So a youth in your life has come out to you.  Congratulations! This is a huge step for them, and the perfect time for you to show up as an ally in their lives. 
According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely than their hetero peers to experience sexual assault, four times more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe, and six times more likely to attempt suicide.  The survey doesn’t ask about the experience of trans or gender-nonconforming youth,but increased marginalization often puts youth at further risk.  According to the Trevor Project, “Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT people are individual-level factors such as depression and experiences of sigma and discrimination, including anti-LGBT hostility, harassment, bullying and family rejection. There is growing evidence that the two factors are linked.”   
It is so important that queer, trans, and questioning youth have adults in their lives who are validating and supportive of their identities:  A teenager isn’t going to bring their problems
at school or in relationships to an adult who is misgendering them, or telling them what they’re going through is ‘just a phase.’  It might be important for you to check your personal beliefs and biases when it comes to gender and orientation; recognize how those beliefs make you available—or not—to trans and queer youth who may need your support. 
A great start is checking in with that youth about what they need to feel safe and supported.  It could include things like wanting to be introduced with the correct name andpronouns, needing access to a single occupancy bathroom, maybe feeling safest with a buddy system in place for getting to classes without harassment.  It might also be important for a teacher to shift some language, i.e. not breaking the classroom up by ‘boys; and ‘girls’ since those labels don’t apply to everyone.  Parents and guardians can help advocate for those safety measures (both emotional and physical) to be in place in school and in the broader community.
I would also encourage families to help their youth connect to peer support.  Outright has all kinds of programs for youth ages 13 through 22 including Friday Night Group, which
meets in Burlington, Montpelier, and Brattleboro. Youth who come to group can ask their peers for support around challenges in school and at home, even the things they might not feel comfortable talking to their parents about (dating, sexuality, etc.).  Helping a youth make peer connections—by driving them to Friday Night Group, supporting their Queer Straight Alliance in school, by using gender neutral language—signals that you are a person they can ask for help.