June is Pride Month, a time to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and celebrate diverse identities. Teens today are increasingly identifying with the LGBTQ+ community and they report being more sexually and gender diverse than previous generations. As a quick lesson – sexual and gender identity are two different concepts that are unrelated. Sexrefers to one’s biological sex (boy or girl) based on chromosomes and reproductive characteristics. Genderrefers to one’s felt and/or expressed sense of being male or female. Sexualityrefers to one’s sexual attraction(s) to others. Historically, these categories have been what we refer to as “binary,” meaning it was an either/or option. You were either male OR female, gay OR straight, etc. However, many people now recognize that gender and sexuality exist on a continuum with numerous options. For people who don’t fit neatly into one category, use of the terms “sexually fluid” and/or “gender fluid” are much more common, particularly with teens.
LGBTQ+ teens face many challenges, including bullying, lack of parental support, lack of role models, discrimination, risk of assault and victimization, and increased stress. Remaining “in the closet” (aka not revealing oneself as LGBTQ+) causes stress in having to hide one’s identity and live an inauthentic experience. Being out can also be stressful due to the issues noted above. In fact, according to the Human Rights Campaign 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report:
- 67% of LGBTQ+ teens have heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ+ people
- 70% reported feeling hopeless or worthless in the previous week
- 77% reported feeling depressed in the previous week
- 95% reported having trouble sleeping at night
- Only 26% reported feeling safe in their classroom
Other surveys and studies have shown higher rates of substance use in LGBTQ+ teens (likely as a way of coping with stress) and higher instances of suicide (likely as a result of stress). In CDC data from 2015, 29% of LGBTQ+ teens had attempted suicide in the previous year. Additionally, many LGBTQ+ teens experience homelessness, typically due to lack of support at home. In fact, as many as 20 to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ teens of color are most likely to encounter homelessness, and they are also at an increased risk for discrimination and negative mental health outcomes due to their multifaceted minority identities.
This is merely a small snapshot of the experiences and potential negative mental health outcomes faced by LGBTQ+ teens. Further reading is recommended for a more complete picture of the LGBTQ+ teen experience. However, despite the many challenges they face, LGBTQ+ teens can be supported and have more positive outcomes when they are accepted in their community. This includes support from parents and family, as well as acceptance in school by teachers, administrators, and school policies. Using inclusive language, refraining from making disparaging remarks, and demonstrating unconditional acceptance can make a significant difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ teens.