Virtually all high schoolers and college students are developmentally at an age when perhaps more than ever, they crave the acceptance of their peers. This is no different for LGBTQ students, except LGBTQ students perceive cultural hostility and silencing and may not be ready to come out. If they come out, they risk being bullied. Some compensate by trying to be perfect in other ways, or by being a class clown, or some withdraw and retreat and risk profound isolation and even have thoughts of suicide.
Because of the social change work of tireless LGBTQ activists and their straight allies, we are living at a time that is most ripe and ready for conversation. Students and parents can benefit by asking questions, staying curious, and being prepared to be surprised as to how and where to find allies.
Students may want to seek out the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at school, and parents may benefit greatly from looking into the local PFLAG organization. In this day and age of social media, you will also find support in chat rooms and on websites with people living across the globe. With that said, young people may want to think globally and act locally and keep up involvement in their own community.
Parents and children need not be afraid to seek counseling to have a safe, open, and trustworthy space to talk with a trained therapist, preferably one who specifies that he or she is especially friendly to these issues. Children and parents will want to be sure to tell the family doctor if at all possible so health needs and issues can be addressed holistically. Self-loathing, isolation, self-injury including cutting and eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts are sadly common among high schoolers and college students and especially so among LGBTQ youth.
Some organizations provide peer support and mentoring, safe space for being out and/or gender questioning, a place for collaboration between “queers” and allies, etc. Organizations like PFLAG provide exceptional support for parents and families so there is increased parental acceptance that is crucial. I always tell my college students who are in the process of coming out to look into PFLAG and to direct their parents and siblings to this. It relieves students of the burden of educating people. Or as Audre Lorde said, “It is not the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor.”
Students on the LGBTQ spectrum are further validated when teachers and professors assign readings by some of the great LGBTQ writers of our time. And without a doubt, students who identify as straight benefit as well from exposure to experiences they might not be aware of. Some write about LGBTQ identity while others write about other subject matter. Often, these are great springboards for discussion on intersectionality and the connections between gender, sexuality, race, and class.
Teachers and professors can also host film screenings and invite guest speakers who highlight these issues from their own personal and professional experiences; these activities should be followed by spirited, lively, open and honest discussions. I do this all the time in my own classrooms. It not only creates a meaningful space for LGBTQ students but it creates expansive space for straight students. I have had a number of students tell me that after my class, they would be okay if one day, they have a child who is gay—this is hugely transformative considering that they entered the class admittedly homophobic.
For students on the LGBTQ spectrum and considering colleges, they would serve themselves well if they seek out schools that are explicitly LGBTQ friendly campuses. Information about this can usually be found online. Also, this is evident at campus visits by asking about and looking at what sorts of activities are already offered and if there is room to embrace more—i.e. events that center on gender, a drag show, a GSA organization, vocal students, vocal professors, supportive symbols and decals around campus, etc.
Below, are some valuable resources that foster greater understanding of the lived experiences of those who identify as LGBTQ and that ultimately help to support youth and their parents.