Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) face many challenges in their daily lives at school and in their communities. When they cannot or do not receive support from their families, it makes facing those challenges all the more difficult.

In some cases, families reject, neglect, or abuse young people when they learn that they identify as LGBTQ+ or are questioning their sexual/gender identity. One study found that 30% of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced physical violence at the hands of a family member after they came out as LGBTQ+. Another study found that 26% of LGBTQ+ youth are forced from their homes due to conflicts from their families regarding their sexual/gender identity. An estimated 32% of homeless youth have experienced some form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at home due to their sexual/gender identity.

Only 5 to 10% of Canadian youth identify as LGBTQ+, yet 25 to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify themselves as LGBTQ+. The proportion of LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness may be much higher than reported due to the fact that many LGBTQ+ youth do not access shelters due to homophobia and transphobia. It has been reported that LGBTQ+ youth who live in shelters face barriers such as judgement, violence, and being assigned a room and bathroom that does not match their gender identity.

"Only 5 to 10% of Canadian youth identify as LGBTQ+, yet 25 to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify themselves as LGBTQ+."

Multiple studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system, despite the fact that they are most likely underreported because they risk facing harassment or abuse if their LGBTQ+ identity is revealed. With no fixed address, regular meals, clean clothes, or showers, homeless youth may drop out of school and/or find it difficult to find or keep a job.

LGBTQ+ Youth of Colour

39% of LGBTQ+ people identify as people of colour; this is overall more diverse then the U.S. population which is 65% White. LGBTQ+ youth of colour (YOC) are overrepresented in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, and sexual minority girls are especially overrepresented in both systems. It is expected that system-involved youth who are both LGBTQ+ and a racial or ethnic minority experience both similar and unique challenges in the child welfare system compared to other youth due to the intersection of the two marginalized communities they are apart of.

Structural racism and LGBTQ+ stigma likely lead to an increased risk of system-involvement for LGBTQ+ youth of colour through a variety of mechanisms, like:

  • Historic and contemporary policies (e.g., Forced cultural assimilation of Indigenous children, policies that promote racial segregation and concentrated poverty)

  • Prejudice towards youth of racial/ethnic minority that “adultifies” youth of colour and views them as threatening versus as children who are deserving of protection and care

  • Growing up in “low opportunity” neighbourhoods as youth of colour

  • A lack of adequate access to competent community-based resources, including mental health, health, and social services prepared to support LGBTQ+ youth of colour in managing stigma-related stress and overcoming structural disadvantage

Being a Good Ally

A report of findings from a survey of 10,000 LGBTQ+ youth found that 1 in 4 identified non-accepting families as the most important challenge in their lives. Examples of behaviours that should be avoided and discouraged include:

  • Blocking access to LGBTQ+ friends, events, and resources

  • Blaming youth when they are discriminated against because of their LGBTQ+ identity

  • Pressuring youth to be more (or less) "masculine" or "feminine" - and keeping their LGBTQ+ identity a secret

Instead, it is important for families to express support through such behaviours as:

  • Talk with youth about their LGBTQ+ identity in an affirming manner

  • Communicating that the young person can have a happy future as an LGBTQ+ adult

  • Working to ensure that other family members respect the young person

Written By: Sydney