All teens worry about the same things: grades, making friends dating, getting into college. But LGBTQ teens face an extra set of stressors that straight teens do not.
- BEING “OUTED” – Having someone identify your sex/gender identity before you’re ready.
“I first came out to my dad, sister, and two really close friends.
One of those friends decided to tell pretty much everyone on our
baseball team because, in his words, he wanted to warn them.
“I was really mad at him. My teammates started acting kind of
weird around me, they stopped inviting me places, and things
like that. It was my senior year of high school so I decided to just
stick with it. I stopped being friends with the guy who outed me
It is NEVER okay to out someone without his/her permission.
REJECTION BY FAMILY & FRIENDS – In Growing Up LGBT in America—a 2012 survey among more than ten thousand LGBT youth ages thirteen to seventeen—the teens were asked to describe the most important problem facing their lives. “Non-accepting families” ranked number one, with 26 percent of the respondents. When they were asked to describe one thing in their lives they would like to change, 15 percent said “my parent/family situation.” For those teens—particularly those who are not out to their family—they often fear how their family will react, knowing they are homo-/bi-/transphobic or swayed by their religion that condemns homosexuality. Still, given the fear of rejection and the disappointment they may well cause their family, more than half of the teens surveyed said they are out to their immediate family, about half said they have an adult in the family they could turn to for help, but less than a third chose their family among a list of places where they most often hear positive messages about being LGBT.
PHYSICAL SAFETY AT SCHOOL AND BEYOND – LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school. More than one third say they don’t come out at school because they will be treated differently or judged. Growing Up LGBT in America supported the fact that growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender can be a rough ride with all kinds of challenges. When asked what the most difficult problem they were facing in their lives “these days,” 21 percent said “trouble at school/bullying.” (Interestingly, 22 percent of non-LGBT youth listed “trouble with classes/exams/grades.) The report found that 51 percent of LGBT youth have been verbally harassed and called names at school. That number compares to 25 percent of non-LGBT students. Despite these statistics, a healthy 75 percent of LGBT teens say that most of their peers don’t have a problem with their gender identity. LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school.
HARRASSMENT & ABUSE –
Nineteen-year-old August, who identifies as a non-binary transgender,was sexually abused at school from the time she was ten until age twelve. She doesn’t remember much from that time: “Probably a survival mechanism. I felt like a robot. I figured my abuser would either leave or that I’d go to another school.” Understandably, August hated to go to school but because she wasn’t being bullied in the “traditional” sense, her parents didn’t get it. “I couldn’t tell them. They would never understand.”
August didn’t know the word rape, didn’t even hear the word until a year after the abuse began. To this day, she is deeply upset that the school withheld information because the teachers and administrators didn’t want to upset the students or add to their own discomfort. August tried her best to put up a good front. She didn’t want anyone to find out about the sexual abuse. “I showed just enough emotion so people didn’t think something was going on. Any time I thought I might share the secret, I shut down. I didn’t tell anyone until this year.”
To make things even more confusing, she began having feelings for girls, not boys. “I had never heard the word gay or seen any evidence of gay people. In fact, I thought I was an alien and meditated a few times to see if I could unlock my memories of having lived on another planet.” Things just didn’t add up. In eighth grade, August had a boyfriend, went to church every day, and tried to “pray the gay away,” as people say. “I deeply hated myself and prayed to have the strength to fix myself.”
In her freshman year, a friend who decided she didn’t want to be friends outed August called her a dyke. “It was bad back then but, as I look back, I see it as positive. I didn’t know how much longer I could stay in the ‘closet.’”
August developed an eating disorder (ED) when she couldn’t put the sexual assault behind her. “Subconsciously, I hoped I’d get sick and die.” In high school, she attempted suicide a “couple” of times. “I had other brushes with sexual assault that brought up everything from the past. I felt trapped, hopeless.” She overdosed. Took pills at night and was in bed the entire night before her parents found her. She spent a week in the hospital. “I’ve been on my death bed more times than I can recommend.” Each time after recovering, “I would chuckle a bit and askmy parents how many times had they been sitting with me next to my hospital bed. They probably thought I was mentally ill. I did see a therapist but was misdiagnosed with depression and PTSD. Eventually, I was told I was bipolar. I was on medication for a while but didn’t think it was helping. I’m off it now and have learned to live with my mood swings.”
And she’s “found community.” “I’m involved in a youth program for LBGTQ teens. It’s the first time I’ve been around queers my age and heard them talking about abuse, self-abuse, gender . . . It’s really validating, comforting. It has affected my mental health in a very positive way. I am not alone.”
- HOMELESSNESS – It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that because somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, they must be delinquents who cause tremendous discord at home or who are running from the law or unable to abide by rules set bytheir parents. Not true. The majority of homeless LGBT youth are what David Bond, vice president of Programs, The Trevor Project, labeled “refugees or asylum seekers” who are escaping really bad conditions at home or have been rejected, often kicked out. According to one study, 26 percent of gay teens were kicked out of their homes when they came out to their parents.
Parents who are unwilling to accept their children’s gender identity are seen as adversaries instead of allies. They may have physically abused their children and, worse yet, a relative or close friend to the family may have sexually abused them. For many homeless LGBT youth living on the street (or in shelters or foster care), their only way to “survive” has been to choose the worst of two evils: fend for themselves or stay in a toxic, often dangerous situation.
- SUBSTANCE ABUSE – National research has shown that substance abuse among LGBT youth is more than two times compared with their peers. It’s not a stretch to understand why vulnerable kids who don’t cope well with stress can turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to numb their pain. It’s a way to survive.
So, what makes one kid resilient and another at risk for substance abuse and other bad choices? David Bond of The Trevor Foundation has some ideas:
• Poor self-esteem
• Poor physical and/or mental wellness
• Little or no satisfaction with life
• Trouble making friends/feeling connected to other people
“We each have the ability to improve, even strengthen each of these protective factors,” writes Bond in an op-ed for The Advocate. “It’s when these base elements, the things that make each of us who we are, come under chronic attack and are threatened that we become vulnerable.”