Despite the recent legalization of gay marriage, the LGBT youth of America still face unwanted discrimination in and out of school. Throughout primary school and college, students who identify as LGBTQ are more susceptible to bullying, social isolation, and even physical assault. In fact, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 92% of LGBT youth say they've heard negative messages about their sexuality. Another 42% say they live in a community intolerant of LGBTQ people. In light of these striking statistics, it's imperative that parents, teachers, and LGBT students themselves learn about the various resources available to better understand and support all students in the LGBT community.
The Language of LGBTQ
LGBT terminology can be confusing to those outside of the community, but understanding and accurately using language goes a long way toward becoming a supportive ally. Allowing LGBT students to self-identify by using terminology most comfortable to them works to reduce bias and avoid discrimination. Over the years, the preferred terminology has shifted and grown to encompass changing attitudes toward and within the LGBTQ community. For example, the once popular term “homosexual” has fallen out of favor since it limits the scope of representation and doesn't always accurately represent an individual's identity.
LGBT Terms and Definitions
Lesbian – A woman who is primarily attracted to other women.
Gay – A person who is primarily attracted to members of the same sex. The term can be used to refer to people of any sex, but “lesbian” is often preferred when referring to gay women.
Bisexual – A person who is attracted to people of both genders. The term is often shortened to “bi”.
Transgender – An umbrella term for people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned to at birth or the binary “man/woman” gender system.
Queer – Often used to describe the entire LGBTQ community, though the term can be construed as offensive when used by someone who is not a member of that community.
Questioning – The process of exploring and discovering gender identity and expression or sexual orientation.
Asexual – A person who generally is not sexually attracted to any group of people.
Ally – A non-LGBT individual who believes in and stands up for the rights of LGBTQ people. Whether LGBTQ or not, anyone can be an ally.
LGBTQ Youth and Children
Childhood can be tricky for LGBTQ students as they navigate their identity in an at-times hostile world. Unfortunately, many LGBT youth are often bullied, and lack the proper support they need to feel safe at school.
Challenges faced by youth who identity as LGBTQ
As they begin to question, or experience confusion over their gender or sexual identities, LGBT students can endure an especially tough time in school. Over 55% of LGBT students have reported feeling unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation. The bullying that these students experience is often at its worst in middle school, where homophobic epithets and physical harassment are alarmingly common. Frequent bullying instills fear and social isolation in many LGBT students, especially if they lack a strong support network at home.
The importance of inclusive curriculum
Fostering an inclusive curriculum built on mutual respect can combat the hostile school environments many LGBTQ youths face. Inclusive elementary school curriculums help students develop empathy and respect differences. For grades 6-12, educators may focus more on sexual orientation and identity development, relationships, and the history and fight for LGBTQ rights. The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a host of resources for school counselors and educators, with appropriate lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students.
Safe schools and legal rights
There are a variety of resources that can help compassionate educators foster a healthy, safe school environment for all students, while letting LGBT students learn about their rights. GLSEN has developed a “Safe Space Kit” for educators that provides guidance on how to be a supportive ally to LGBTQ students, along with resources they can use to challenge and change unsupportive school environments.
Safe schools begin with students and educators who know their legal rights. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides guidance on what high school students should do if they face homophobic harassment at school, including tips on how to report harassment and how students can protect their privacy.
Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs at schools have often caused controversy on campuses. Students facing resistance from administrators or peers, however, should be aware of the Federal Equal Access Act. The law indicates that any school receiving government funding and sponsoring at least one other non-curricular club must allow a GSA club to form on campus.
Additionally, students and educators should review the specific anti-bullying and harassment laws in their state.
Alternative and online schools
Some LGBT students may feel safest in an alternative school atmosphere. Students or parents wary of mistreatment may consider homeschooling alternatives or special online programs, like Global Village, that are sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ community. Another option for students may be enrolling in private, LGBT-only schools, like the k-12 Pride School that recently opened in Atlanta, GA.
Support and social networks
All students can make their campus safer and more inclusive. They can start or join a GSA club on campus, or build other LGBTQ-oriented campus organizations. They can also search for local resources like youth groups and community centers through sites like The Trevor Project and GLTB Near Me. Online networks provide an additional lifeline to students who cannot access other resources in-person, offering information, LGBT youth peer support, and other forms of guidance.
Parenting LGBTQ Youth
LGBT youth experience more challenges, bullying, and harassment than other children their age. Consequently, they need additional familial support while they grow and develop their identity. Unfortunately, 30% of LGBT youths hide their identity from family members because they feel their family is not accepting. To provide optimal support, parents should familiarize themselves with the coming out process and how they can advocate on their child's behalf.
The coming out process
“Coming out” refers to the process through which an individual decides to share their sexual orientation or gender identity with others. Out youth generally report higher levels of happiness and support, but it's important for parents to let their children come out on their own schedule. Under no circumstances should parents out them before they're ready to do so themselves.
Advocating for LGBTQ students
Parents can provide a critical voice with their advocacy and support for LGBT children in the community, in schools, and in their extended family. The first step is to learn more about sexual orientation and gender identity. They may also want to search for LGBT support networks, and learn more about their child's rights as they pertain to LGBT issues. Parents are invited to explore Advocates for Youth's resources page on LGBTQ matters for more information.
Caring for foster children
Of the approximately 175,000 kids from 10-18 in foster homes, an estimated 5-10% identify as LGBTQ. Foster parents should build a welcoming home for these especially vulnerable children, as some of them may have entered the foster care system after they were kicked out of their homes due to sexual or gender orientation. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a thorough guide for foster parents to learn more about understanding and supporting LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ College Students
Choosing a school with a robust support network for LGBTQ students can ease the transition to college, particularly for students leaving home for the first time. Students should examine the resources available through LGBT colleges, what their campus centers are like, and what LGBTQ courses are required or offered before deciding where to attend school.
Choosing an LGBTQ-Friendly Campus
The Campus Pride Index assesses each school's LGBTQ-friendliness by examining its policies, practices, and programs through a 50-question self-assessment. Hundreds of schools are listed in the Campus Pride Index's searchable database.
Students should evaluate each response, even if it doesn't directly pertain to their situation. For example, a college applicant may not be married, but learning whether one of their target schools extends health coverage to the partners of LGBTQ employees provides insight into the campus culture.
Campus Pride Index
- Does the campus prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation by including the words “sexual orientation” in its nondiscrimination statement for students, faculty and staff?
- Does the school's state recognize civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples?
- Does the campus offer health insurance coverage to employees' same-sex partners?
Support & Institutional Commitment
- Does the campus have an LGBTQ concerns office or an LGBTQ student resource center?
- Does the school actively seek to employ a diversity of staff, faculty, and administrators, including visible and out LGBTQ individuals?
- Does the campus offer training opportunities for new faculty, staff, and administrators during their orientation program, incorporating topics relevant to sexual orientation?
- Does the school actively recruit faculty for their LGBT-related academic scholarship?
- Does the campus have at least one university-recognized student organization for LGBTQ students and allies?
- Does your campus have any university-recognized student organizations for LGBTQ graduate students?
- Does the school offer LGBTQ students a way to be matched with an LGBT-friendly roommate on the application for campus housing?
- Does the college provide an LGBT-focused living space, LGBTQ-themed floor or LGBT/Ally living-learning community program?
- Does the campus have an easily accessible, visible and known procedure for reporting LGBT-related bias incidents and hate crimes? Is it distinct from generic reporting procedures?
- Does the school provide support for victims of same-gender/same-sex sexual violence and intimate partner violence?
Counseling & Health
- Does the campus offer a support group (or groups) to help individuals in the process of acknowledging and disclosing their identities and related concerns?
- Does your campus offer free, anonymous, and easily accessible HIV and STI testing?
Recruitment and Retention Efforts
- Does the school provide scholarships specifically for LGBTQ students?
- Does the university offer programs that incorporate topics around gender identity and expression in new student orientation programs every year?
Source: Campus Pride
Students should also consider whether their prospective schools have supportive LGBTQ campus centers. These centers should be run by at least one paid professional staff member — or graduate assistant — working at least 20 hours per week to help students find and take advantage of LGBT colleges and resources. Use this interactive map to find qualifying campus centers.
LGBTQ Courses and Majors
If students are interested in studying LGBTQ issues, they'll want to explore schools with queer studies or gender and sexuality studies departments. Many schools offer majors or minors in LGBTQ subjects. Disciplines outside of LGBTQ departments may also address LGBTQ issues.
Regardless of where they attend school, LGBTQ students have access to supportive resources online. Students can browse and post in chats and forums — such as emptyclosets — and social media networks. Many colleges themselves have begun designing and implementing school-affiliated online social media presences for LGBTQ students.
It's important for all students to know their rights, particularly LGBTQ students who have not yet faced much discrimination. Lambda Legal, a national organization dedicated to achieving recognition for LGBTQ rights, has educational resources for college students related to their legal rights at school, including information regarding transgender college students and free speech rights.
Additionally, LGBTQ students are protected under Title IX , a federal law stipulating that people cannot be discriminated against based on their sex in educational programs and activities that receive funding from the federal government.
There are several scholarships for exceptional LGBTQ students and allies seeking higher education opportunities; the Human Rights Campaign maintains a database of these scholarships.
- Eligibility: Deaf and out LGBTQ youth under the age of 25 who have earned a 2.5 GPA or better.
- Amount: $500
- Eligibility: Gay men who want to pursue advanced educational opportunities, including college, grad school, or vocational programs.
- Amount: $19,000
- Eligibility: LGBT students planning to pursue a career in journalism.
- Amount: up to $5,000
- Eligibility: STEM undergraduate and graduate students who are members of, or allies to, the LGBT community.
- Amount: $5,000
- Eligibility: High school seniors and college freshman, sophomores, and juniors who demonstrate an active commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS.
- Amount: $2,500 to $5,000
- Eligibility: LGBTQ high school, and college students are encouraged to apply.
- Amount: Up to $10,000
- Eligibility: LGBTQA high school students who win the essay contest and promote queer studies to improve the educational situation of queer youth.
- Amount: $1,000
- Eligibility: HIV-positive students enrolled in or planning to attend college.
- Amount: $250 to $5,000
- Eligibility: A student at an NYC-area school who identifies as both an immigrant and as LGBTQ.
- Amount: up to $12,500
Many educational and support resources are available to LGBTQ students, their parents, and educators that are accessible online; peruse select resources below.
Parents and Family of LGBTQ Youth
- PFLAG – The nation's largest family and ally organization advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ people.
- Advocates for Youth – Helps young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.
- “Families are Talking” Guide – Guide to talking about sexual orientation with your child from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.
- The Trevor Project – Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people ages 13-24.
- GSA Network – LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans, and allied youth leaders.
- It Gets Better Project – Creates and inspires the changes needed to make the world a better place for LGBTQ youth.
- Consortium of Higher Education – Develops curriculums that support LGBTQ issues in higher education and advocates for policy change.
- GLSEN – Conducts research, develops resources, and influences policy to advance safe and affirming school environments for LGBTQ students.
- Stop Bullying – Government website with resources to combat bullying in schools, including bullying experienced by LGBTQ youth.
- Campus Pride Index Search – Students can search for colleges that met set criteria for LGBTQ-friendly learning environments.
- National LGBTQ Task Force – Trains LGBTQ activists and has a host of internships and fellowships for college and graduate students.
- Pride Foundation – Regional organization that supports LGBTQ students in the Pacific Northwest.
LGBTQ Students of Color
- Queer People of Color Collective – Promotes conversation and builds community across the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
- National Black Justice Coalition – Civil rights organization that works to end racism and homophobia.
- National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance – Builds and supports local LGBT Asian and Pacific Islander efforts.