When it comes to LGBTQ youth, the word ally is a powerful motivator. An ally refers to anyone who supports and encourages individuals because they know it’s the right thing to do. They don’t necessarily have to be part of the act, belief, or movement to be a supporter. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, an ally speaks against discrimination, supports the most vulnerable, and is committed to equality.
By pushing through the stereotypes and engaging with youth, many young people feel capable and confident. It can help mitigate many mental health conditions that burden youth, particularly when they feel “broken” or “misfit” amongst their peers. That’s not to say it prevents mental health conditions; it simply lessens the impact that sexual orientation might have. Supporting LGBTQ youth doesn’t have to be significant changes in your daily life. Small changes can have a noticeable effect. Here are five ways you can help the child in your life.
Support Questions of Sexuality and Encourage Conversations
As children develop and continue to become self-aware, questions of sexuality or gender may arise. Although it might happen out of the blue (during family dinner, for example), it’s essential to remain open and fluid throughout the conversation. Encourage children to understand what it means to identify within the LGBTQ and what that means overall for their lifestyle. Never shun or ridicule a child if they begin sharing their thoughts or feelings. Many parents are quick to shut down discussions of sexuality, stating the child is too young or immature to know what they’re talking about. While youth may shift and transition within different identities or genders throughout the years, remaining open and supportive provides a welcoming atmosphere overall.
Start Speaking Out Against anti-LGBTQ Messages
One of the easiest ways to support LGBTQ youth is to be the voice they wish they had. Sexual identity and gender are something we are born with (it’s genetic), not something youth choose. It is not a mental disorder, nor are they confused or unintelligent. Speaking out against anti-LGBTQ messages can make a massive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children. Shut down messages of hate by countering with love and support. You can educate, inform, or simply tell them you don’t want to hear it anymore. Sometimes, a simple “you’re wrong” can be a powerful tool for young members of the LGBTQ. No child should have to listen to messages of hate, and it’s up to the adults of the world to shut it down while they can’t.
Promote LGBTQ in Communities
While many are aware of June 1 being “pride day,” having community awareness goes beyond hanging a flag in your window (although this can help). Encourage local libraries, schools, and community programs to provide literature within their facilities. Find LGBTQ authors and request books within the library. Try to encourage local schools to create safe spaces that nurture everyone within the classroom, prohibiting hateful or antigay language or slurs. Make sure that all community and educational administrations are aware of local LGBTQ friendly therapists for youth. These individuals or facilities promote mental health and wellness overall without focusing on sexual or gender orientations as a cause or influencing factor.
Have an Open Door Policy
Children and youth need to know that there are safe spaces within the community to protect them from harm if needed. An open-door policy does not discriminate and will provide help or assistance without question. This may include crisis help (during a time of extreme mental anguish), emotional support, or protection (for example, if a child is being bullied or teased within the area). If you are a parent, make sure you discuss the importance of having open communication about sexuality. An open-door policy does not mean that you physically take children into your home; instead, you connect youth with the services or programs they need.
Educate Yourself and Others
As the world evolves and changes, so too do the terms and conditions around the LGBTQ. Are you aware of pronouns and how they influence identity? Can you define non-binary or asexual? Education is the most powerful way an individual can support youth locally and on a global level. Every conversation with LGBTQ youth should start with a pronoun discussion. Simply let them know how you identify and ask them to do the same. A simple question of, “I’m wondering what pronouns you’d like me to use?” can go a long way in forming a connection and understanding with that person. If you forget, it’s okay. Simply correct yourself and apologize. Ask youth whether they’re comfortable with these pronouns around everyone or if they’d prefer you only use them in private.
Make sure that the pronouns are used with the person present and in their absence. Correct others if you hear misgendering whenever possible. The only exception to this rule is when a person hasn’t disclosed their identity or orientation to others.
Taking the time to understand changes and improvements made within the LGBTQ is critical for core understanding. It’s okay to make mistakes; the key is to accept these mistakes, apologize for them, and learn how to do better next time.