Mentoring LGBT Youth
Mentoring LGBT youth is especially important due to the incredibly high rate of suicide in the LGBT community. According to the Human Rights Campaign around twenty-six percent of LGBT youth stated that they “always feel safe in their school classrooms” which is nearly a quarter of all LGBT reported youth. It was only five percent that stated that they felt that “all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBT individuals” (hrc.org).
Moving on to the home front, sixty-seven percent reported that they have heard family members make negative comments about LGBT people individuals (hrc.org). Youth is a fragile time, to begin with, throw other aspects in that add more stress can create environments that can hold back our youth, mentoring and coaching can add that positive aspect that is so desperately needed in the lives of our LGBT youth. An LGBT positive mentor or even a mentor who is LGBT themselves can create such a positive impact on the growing mind of LGBT youth as that may be the only individual in their life that is accepting, and that little bit can go a long way.
Mentoring is often defined as a professional relationship between the mentor, who is an experienced person in the area of needed support, encourages and supports the mentee to develop possible specific skills, knowledge, or help keep them on track with current plans. In short, a mentor-mentee relationship is one where the mentee is lacking something, a skill or support that the mentor or coach can provide.
Think in terms of sports coaching, a basketball coach teaches players the rules and plays of the game, the relationship could be somewhere along those lines or the relationship can be high school student asking their mentor with help being walked through the college application process, or in terms of LGBT students. Asking their mentor safe places for them to go, safe doctors to see, places to find classes on safe LGBT sex education. Mentoring relationships vary, but the benefits of the relationship show in the transfer of skills from mentor to mentee.
LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals. HRC Foundation and the University of Connecticut released a survey of more than twelve thousand LGBT teenagers from across the country. The survey revealed these teenagers are not only experiencing extreme levels of anxiety and stress but also feel unsafe when they are in school and sometimes even their own homes (hrc.org). It is due to this that mentoring programs for our youth, especially LGBT youth are so crucial. An LGBT positive mentor or even a mentor who is LGBT themselves can create such a positive impact on the growing mind of LGBT youth as that may be the only individual in their life that is accepting, and that little bit can go a long way.
A major issue among LGBT youth is drug use. Youth that identity as somewhere on the LGBT spectrum is associated with an increased lifetime frequency of use of cocaine, inhalants, meth crack, steroids, and injectable drugs. As well as drugs, another issue prominent issue LGBT face is that 40% of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBT.LGBT youth are two to four times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to heterosexual youth which makes suicide the leading cause of death among LGBT youth (Barjas, 2005). With the drug use, high rates of homelessness, and high rates of mental health distress mentoring and ouch reach programs for the LGBT youth are not only needed but can make a life or death difference in some of the lives of the LGBT youth.
LGBT rights have made a progressive movement in the past few years, is that marriage equality was granted in all 50 states in 2015, but that does not take away all the homophobia and make our LGBT youth feel safe. An example of homophobia still in effect is that it is still alive in college women’s sports. Sometimes outright and other time subtle. There have been reports of women coaches who have lost their jobs because it was assumed they were a lesbian or they were out about the fact that they are lesbian.
Some lesbian women have applicants were pulled from going further in the hiring process due to sexual orientation. Moving to on the court, players suspected of being a lesbian or out have been kicked off teams or if allowed to stay on, their playing time dwindled (Cunningham, 2012). Women coaches and athletes alike still feel intense pressure to conform to social norms and express femininity (even though femininity does not define sexual orientation) and use heterosexuality as a defense against the homophobia and the discrimination that often accompanies being openly LGBT (Cunningham, 2012).
It is especially difficult for LGBT youth of color, as only 11 percent of youth of color surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign feel that their racial or ethnic group is considered confidently in the United States (hrc.org). It was over 50 percent of transgender or non-binary youth stated that they can “never use school restrooms that correspond with their gender identity” (hrc.org).
According to the report “Ensuring Access to Mentoring Programs for LGBTQ Youth” (2014) by researcher team; Christy Mallory Brad Sears Amira Hasenbush Alexandra Susman that LGBT youth are struggling to access mentoring programs and other social services specific for LGBT youth (Mallory et al., 2014). Following their 2014 report analysis it is estimated that of the 3.2 million LGBTQ youth ages 8 to 18 in the United States, nearly 1.l million have not had a mentor of any sort. It was under 500,000 youths who stated that they have had some form of mentoring experience (Mallory et al., 2014).
The team of researchers in this report call for policies and legal protections that will ensure that LGBT youth have access to mentoring programs designed just for them in attempts to reduce anything that can potentially lead to them being sent to the juvenile justice system and/or mental health struggles that can lead to death (Mallory et al., 2014). Some of their recommendations to ensure access to youth mentoring programs and social services for LGBT youth include first and foremost schools and local governments creating these programs, some schools have GSA groups.
GSA stands for Gay-Straight Alliances, it is typically a student-run union that brings awareness to the climate and change outdated policies. GSA is also a good way for students to meet other queer or trans students in a safe environment where they know they are welcome and not alone.
There also is a call for a change of laws that are discriminatory to LGBT people, such as the trans bathroom bill or how in some states establishments can refuse service to LGBT individuals. In order for youth to feel safe in mentoring relationships, they need to feel safe simply existing. On the topic of laws, enforcing existing legal protections is important for making LGBT mentoring programs accessible. Some of the existing laws protect LGBTQ people are state non-discrimination law, Title IX, constitutional provision, and Title VII (Mallory et al., 2014). These laws can also move to protect LGBT youth athletes.
An important factor to take into play when it comes to mentoring LGBT youth that some of these youth have not always had it easy. Some may be put on the street from unaccepting family and have been through traumatic events. If that is the case, mentor-mentee relationships are put under even more stress. An example; LGBT youth that have been involved in foster homes or have been in juvenile detention centers may struggle getting all that mentor-mentee relationships have to offer them due to a stigma about “troubled teens” from society or even themselves, stress of not always being able to be available if they do not have a reliable place to stay or transportation (Rummell, 2016).
The phase of development with their sexual and gender identity can also be an indicator of how well a mentor-mentee relationship can benefit LGBT youth. Recent research has shown the age in which LGBT youth come out has dropped over the last thirty years (Rummell, 2016). In the ’80s youth were coming out in their late teen’s early twenties, some as early as 16 or 17. In more recent years male youth have reported feeling sexual interest and romantic interest in the same sex as young as age 10 (Rummell, 2016). Lesbian and bisexual female youth tend to follow a similar path as first showing interest in the same sex around age 11 (Rummell, 2016).
On the other end of the spectrum, LGBT with accepting family and friends, and are more certain in their sexual orientation and gender identity can be better positioned to form trusting relationships and to seek out these programs without fear of stigma from society or their family, they can be open about their whereabouts and feel safe doing so (Rummell, 2016). Researchers also found that the sexual orientation of the mentors or coaches influenced the levels of comfort and success when addressing the needs of transgender youth. Mentors who identified themselves as LGB showed that they were more confident in their ability to aid transgender youth than a mentor who identified as heterosexual (Rummell, 2016).
As mentioned in research done by the Computing Research Association (2016) there is more and more research that shows LGBT youth do indeed benefit from the individualized support of mentorships when it comes to school, specifically those going into STEM Majors and carrying through into the workforce. When it came to LGBT undergraduates, researchers found that the mentees who were partnered with LGBT mentors found it easier to access community resources, they also experienced benefits like personal support during struggles relating to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation journey that their mentor had already experienced in a similar fashion.
They also showed increase involvement on their university campuses (Ross, 2005). Students with mentors in the workplace were found to have higher exam and homework grades than students without mentors (Hamilton & Hamilton, 2013). With that being said, it has also been found that the presence of mentors for adults aged mid-twenties to early thirties was linked with higher skill levels as employees (McDonald & Lambert, 2011).
There are many youth mentoring programs across the country who are serving LGBT youth whether they realize it or not, with that being said and mentioned above LGBT youth face extra obstacles and should have programs for their specific needs. If a program wants to be successful in being a positive effect on ALL youth, mentors should have proper training and sensitivity training on how to properly handle LGBT issues and correct terminology used in the community.
A successful mentoring program should have policies in work that ensure the physical and mental well beings of all individuals involved. These policies will be the guidelines to ensure smooth functioning of the program and to fulfilling the mission of successfully mentoring the LGBT youth (Barjas, 2005).
Policies should include: First, a non-discrimination statement that ensures the staff and the youth that their sexual orientation, gender identity, and health-related is all confidential to this program, they are safe here and no one will out them. Coming out is something incredibly personal and is up to the individual when if ever they are ready to do so and who they disclose to. Next, there needs to be an anti-harassment policy that will include the mentor, mentee, and any volunteers… There should be direct consequences for any harassment of anyone in the program for their sexual orientation or gender identity. There needs to be an absolute zero tolerance for any harassment, as this is maybe the only safe place available to some individuals (Barjas, 2005).
Moving on to training for any staff and volunteers. It needs to be ensured that they have all the correct tools and skill sets to serve the LGBT youth. Training should be provided via the organization at the very start of the relationship with the program. Next, incorporate diversity into the activities of the program making sure to fully include the POC of the LGBT community as they are often overlooked in many aspects of the community (Barjas, 2005).
Some examples of positive LGBT Youth mentoring programs are; ScarleTeen which provides “sex ed for the real world”. SarleTeen was founded in 1998 and their services provide teens and young adults with sexual education information that is LGBT centered. Sex education is not being taught properly in the United States to begin with if it is being taught at all it is only giving the very basic anatomy and contraceptive methods. LGBT youth are particularly at a loss as their sex lives are not represented. If they are not taught in a safe educated environment it can lead to them seeking information elsewhere and not the safest locations. Another important part of sex ed for LGBT youth is the use of safe sex practices such as dental dams or properly cleaning toys that are not typically taught with heterosexual sex education and is hypothesized why STD and HIV rates are higher among LGBT individuals. Scarleteen is the highest ranked website for helping spread this information(Rhodes, 2014).
The website includes multiple resources to help LGBT people not only practice safe sex but also come to terms with their identity, and a listing of resources that youth can find in their specific area (Rhodes, 2014). They feature blog posts by LGBT people who work to offer help whether it be via live chatting, text messaging, message boards, and even an advice column (Rhodes, 2014).
The Ali Forney Center is another LGBT youth mentoring center that is based in New York City. the Ali Forney Center was founded in honor of Ali Forney, a gay transgender youth who was tragically killed at the age of 22. The Center provides homeless LGBT youth with primary medical care such as STD and HIV testing, mental health counseling and mentors who can help them get back on track (Rhodes, 2014). They also provide basic human needs such as food, showers, and housing. The housing for the homeless LGBT operates on emergency housing where youth can live in mentor and social worker-run apartments for up to six months. After the six month period is up transitional housing where youth can stay for up to two years is offered (Rhodes, 2014).
Mentoring programs for LGBT youth tend to be a little different than usual youth programs because LGBT youth face hardships that must be met before usual mentoring can take place such as housing or food for them to eat. Also mentoring comes in many different forms. As mentioned above, it is a transfer of skills from the mentor to the mentee. The skills can be as basic as finding a way to survive like the programs who help with safer sex or the ones who provide food and shelter or how to be successful in the workforce like the program for LGBT Stem majors. Mentoring comes in all forms, no matter the form it has been proven time and time again a human connection that is based on compassion and acceptance that is accompanied by knowledge will always be beneficial for our youth.
Even though the LGBT community has made strides in terms of acceptance, they still struggle. There is very little research in terms of mentoring our LGBT youth as research mentioned above there is more focus on how to create these safe places for our youth to learn not only who they are, but how to protect themselves so they can then go out into the world to succeed.
We must first create a proper ground to plant our seeds before they can blossom, which they have shown they can and will do given the opportunity as shown in the research done by the Computing Research Association (2016). When it came to LGBT undergraduates, researchers found that the mentees who were partnered with LGBT mentors found it easier to access community resources. These students were more involved on their campuses than before and their exam scores had gone up. The power of believing in another individual and supporting them while transferring your experiences and skills creates the perfect growing environment especially in a community of our youth that is often discriminated against.