A Village of Support for LGBTQI Youth

Kendan Elliott
women standing in sun

In the face of a long list of challenges, LGBTQI youth are extremely resilient.  When they experience harassment in schools, youth programs, and other “safe” places, they join together to support one another. We also see this resilience emerge for LGBTQI youth who have experienced rejection from their families. Even though LGBTQI youth who have experienced rejection from their families are:

  • 8 times more likely to report having attempted suicide,
  • Nearly 6 more times as likely to report high levels of depression,
  • More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
  • 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases

……than LGBTQI youth with families who do support them, they persevere. This perseverance may take shape in varying ways, including building their own network of support, or even creating their own intergenerational chosen families.  These connections youth make often provide informal mentoring, offering a place to stay, a listening ear, and support in navigating the difficulties and celebrating the milestones of adolescence. Though connecting with others for support is vital for a youth to survive when on their own, some of these relationships may put LGBTQI youth in situations that increase their risk of being victimized and/or commercial sexual exploited.  Youth who are disconnected from family and those struggling to meet their basic needs are particularly vulnerable.  In fact, up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQI, the majority reporting family rejection as the primary reason for their loss of housing. Given the high number of homeless LGBTQI youth who experience commercial sexual exploitation, family engagement is a critical part of our prevention efforts. Programs should work to engage families where safe and appropriate.  Nonjudgmental conversations with parent/caregivers, as well as referrals to community resources, parent support groups, articles, and other information can provide support for families who are struggling to understand or accept a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, formal mentoring programs have the opportunity to address the mentoring gap for LGBTQI youth.  A safe, supportive adult who affirms the youth’s sexual orientation and gender identity can be a lifeline, particularly for youth who have experienced rejection from their birth families. Without family support, LGBTQI youth may seek out additional support from their mentor.  In addition, some youth prefer a mentor who has navigated the world as an LGBTQI individual; LGBTQI mentors can provide a “possibility model” for youth who may rarely see people like them experience success.  More important than sexual orientation or gender identity is a mentor’s acceptance and nonjudgmental support of their mentee. Given the enormous impact of family acceptance for LGBTQI youth, investing in family engagement is crucial.  We must also look holistically at LGBTQI youth, engaging supportive adults who are part of their chosen families, in addition to improving relationships with their birth families.  LGBTQI youth need a welcoming “village” that truly values and respects them.

Focus areas