Having a sexual orientation or gender identity that is not sanctioned by most of society can be hard. Imagine the level of judgment, ridicule, and even physical attack they may receive – and do. If you are a friend, parent, partner, or relative to an LGBT teen, there are many ways you can be supportive. Keep in mind that this article is meant to be just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways to support an LGBTQIA teen, and there is much to learn.
What is LGBTQIA?
Generally, the term LGBT is commonly used to identify teens as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. However, some communities use LGBTQIA as an umbrella term to include teens who identify with being queer, intersex, or asexual. In some communities, LGBTQIA might also stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and ally. If you’re confused by some of the LGBTQIA terms, here are some quick definitions:
Lesbian: A female whose sexual orientation is toward other females, or those of the same gender.
Gay: This term can be used for both males and females. It is used to describe individuals whose sexual orientation is toward people of the same gender.
Bisexual: A person whose primary sexual orientation is toward a person of either gender.
Transgender: Individuals whose gender identity or whose expression of gender does not agree with their biological attributes, or the sex they were born with.
Queer: Although this term has historically been used in a derogatory way toward LGBT individuals, it is now often used in a positive way to describe those who don’t fit into society’s ideas of sexual orientation or gender.
Questioning: Someone who is questioning is going through a process of self-discovery with regarding to their sexual orientation and gender.
Intersex: Someone who has developed sex characteristics (without medical intervention) that do not fit into society’s definitions of male or female.
Asexual: Someone who does not feel sexually attracted to others or who do not have a desire for being in a sexual partnership.
Ally: Anyone who is in support of and taking action on behalf of an LGBTQIA individual.
Sex versus Gender versus Sexual Orientation
After reading these definitions, you might be confused about what gender is compared to a person’s sex, or how a person’s gender identity might affect their sexual orientation. Here are some more clarifying definitions:
Sex: The biological expression of a particular gender that an individual is born with. This can include the specific physical attributes at birth such as internal and external anatomy, chromosomes, and levels of particular hormones.
Gender: A socially constructed concept often limited to male and female. Gender is usually associated with specific roles, behavior, activities, and mannerisms that society assigns to it.
Sexual orientation: An individual’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to men, women, or both. Sexual orientation can vary along a continuum, including heterosexual (having emotional and physical attraction to someone of the opposite sex), homosexual (having emotional and physical attraction to someone of the same sex), or bisexual (having emotional and physical attraction to both sexes).
How to Be an Ally to an LGBTQIA Teen
The truest sense of the word ally means that you’re willing to fight against the oppression and harm that LGBTQIA individuals experience. However, ally can simply mean providing your support, and you can do that in the following ways:
- Be accepting. One of the most powerful ways you can help an LGBTQIA teen is to accept them for who they are. Others might be quick to judge them because they don’t fit into society’s neat categories of gender and sexual orientation. If you’re willing to be a friend and refrain from being judgmental, then you’re already supporting your teen in huge ways. This can be hard for parents, especially with strong religious backgrounds. Yet, accepting LGBTQIA teens can not only help them feel better but it can also support their emotional and mental health.
- Develop a relationship. If you are a parent or an adult in an LGBTQIA teen’s life, another incredibly powerful way to be supportive is to be in your teen’s corner. Many LGBTQIA teens don’t have too many people on their side because of the ways they may challenge conventional living. Letting a teen know you’re there for them and that you’re looking out for them can help them feel safe, loved, and accepted.
- Educate yourself. The information provided above is only a fraction of what there is to learn about LGBTQIA life. There’s also cross dressing, drag queen, gender queer, androgynous, multi-gendered, and more. The point is that even if a teen may be displaying behavior you haven’t yet come across doesn’t make them odd. Educate yourself first before making judgments.
- Get involved. To further support an LGBTQIA teen, there may be a club, committee, meeting, or event that you can attend with them. Some school have a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) and communities have PFLAG events. PFLAG stands for Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays and is one of the largest communities of support for the LGBTQIA
- Confront your own biases and judgments. Anyone raised in Western society is going to have conditioned ideas, beliefs, and judgments toward those who do not fit into sanctioned sexual orientations or gender identities. Often, individuals possess biases without even knowing about them. If you have an LGBTQIA in your life, be honest with yourself about your judgments and assumptions. Remember that there is no one way to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. Teens may express their gender, sexuality, and LGBTQIA lifestyle in a wide range of ways.
Lastly, watch out for your LGBTQIA teen’s mental health. At the start of this article was mention of the challenges that LGBTQIA teens face. If you notice that the teen in your life is becoming emotionally distressed, it’s important to get professional support. Suicide, homelessness, and substance use are commonly associated with LGBTQIA individuals, due to the hardships they have to bear. You can further support them by linking them up with a mental health professional.