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LGBTQIA+ Teens: Diversity and Inclusion

By Annie Walk, HCBH Clincal Therapy Intern

LGBTQIA+ youth, age 13-18, struggle with the challenges of being different, while also wanting to be included. It is our duty, as an empathetic and inclusive society to try to educate ourselves about the LGBTQIA+ community, and learn how to interact with them respectfully, especially when it comes to adolescents.

Vocabulary has changed a lot in the past 10 years that I’ve been interacting with gender and sexuality in an educational setting ... and it can be intimidating. There are new terms that did not exist 10 years ago - and there are even more terms that existed but were not part of popular culture. This can create a real barrier to anyone who wants to be part of the conversation.

What does the LGTBQIA+ stand for?

LGBTQIA+ is an acronym used to signify Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual people collectively. There are many more marginalized/diverse gender and sexuality identities beyond LGBTQIA though, such as Demi-sexual, Agender, Non-binary, Ally, Cisgender, Constellation, Pansexual. Which is why you might see longer acronyms used. Rather than continue to add letters (and make an unwieldy thing) the + is often added to the end of an acronym to indicate this expansive list of gender/sexuality identities.

How can I reference and use these terms appropriately when I speak to teens?

If you ask someone “how do you identify?” they may not really understand what you’re asking, so it’s important to first clarify (for yourself) what you mean and then why you are asking that question? If you’re asking someone “do you identify as a man or a woman” so that you can know how to refer to them (i.e. their pronouns) it is better to ask, “what are your pronouns?” That’s the information you actually want to know (and often need to know) — so ask that instead.

Though it may feel unusual, if you are part of an older generation, I assure you that this is perfectly acceptable and commonplace in today's inclusive culture to inquire about a person's preferred pronouns.

How can I support someone "coming out" publicly?

Coming out in public looks much different than in the past and is also subjective. If you are part of someone’s coming out story, please be mindful that:

  • It is never okay to out someone (to reveal that they are LGBTQ without their permission).
  • If you are supporting someone in their coming out process it is important for you to find out what they want you to do with the information they’ve shared—do they want you to share with others, keep it to yourself, check in with them regularly about it, etc.
  • Everyone is going to want/need different things during their coming out process. Asking explicitly, “Hey, I’m so glad you shared this with me, how can I best support you in this process?” is a great question to ask.
How can I find tolerance and understanding?

Imagine you’re a little boy and you’re hanging out with that #1 person in your life - your bestie, whether that be your best friend, favorite relative, or someone else. You’re watching cartoons and you say that you love Batman. Your #1 person asks you what you mean by that. You try to explain that you are really in love with Batman. Then your #1 calls you a fag and tells you he/she can’t hang out with you anymore.

Fast forward to high school. Your feelings of attraction to people of the same sex haven’t gone away, and you’ve started to explore them secretly in relationships. You think, “It’s the 21st century, my family loves me, I should be myself.” You decide to tell one of your closest family members that you are dating someone, and that you are gay. They tell you that you’re going through a phase and say you need to break up with that person. You tell them it’s not a phase, and they refuse to talk to you any longer. You worry you might even have to leave home.

A little further down the road, you’re in college now and life has gotten a little better. You’ve found a community of people to hang out with who support and care for you. They accept you for who you are. One day, you see a sign for a student organization meeting. You decide to check it out and go to a meeting. Afterwards, the president comes up to you and introduces himself. You start talking and he asks if he saw you in the gay pride parade on campus recently. You say yes and excitedly describe the event that you were involved with. He tells you that he respects your right to do what you want, but that members of the group wouldn’t feel comfortable around you. He asks you not to come back.

How would you feel ...?

Can you find tolerance and patience in your heart? Will you open your mind and take some time to educate yourself further on LGBTQ issues amongst the adolescent population?

How can I educate myself on LGBTQIA+ language and culture?

As adults, it literally costs us zero dollars to educate ourselves and treat our young people with a gentle hand, so that they realize even if they are different, they are an important part of our here and now, as well as our future. A child who is accepted and secure will remain secure in their own identity and will feel free to come willingly to an adult and ask about these things. Our youth are so bright, inquisitive, and insightful. They amaze me every day. And, they need our support and acceptance now more than ever.

There are amazing resources online. If you are so inclined, and want to learn more, please check out these free resources:

About the author

Annie Walk

Annie Walk is a Clinical Therapy Intern with HCBH in Evanston WY, providing individual, family, and group mental health and addiction counseling; adult and adolescent therapies. She loves working with diverse populations, children, youth and adults. 

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