Community Support of Sexual Minority Adolescents
Community-based organizations and programs that work with youth can have a tremendous, positive impact on the development of our nation's children. Organizations have the potential to provide opportunities for youth to acquire personal and social assets, and experience features of positive developmental settings, such as teamwork, diversity, citizenship, leadership, character development, and well-being (Benson, 1997).
Youth considered as minorities in protected classes are a focus of this fact sheet. Community-based organizations and programs have an opportunity to reach sexual minority or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents. Rather than neglect and/or stigmatize these adolescents, organizations can model openness and teach both adolescent peers and mentors how to respect and appreciate differences as well as similarities. The purpose of this publication is to provide staff and volunteers working in community-based settings with positive information and practical tips on how to create a welcoming, safe environment for LGBT adolescents.
The first programmatic decision that needs to be made is whether the organization and its stakeholders are prepared to openly offer support to sexual minority youth. Community organizations are not always supportive or inclusive of gay and lesbian issues (Keefer and Reene, 2002). Providing support to sexual minority youth may be difficult in some organizational settings and for some stakeholders. This difficulty may be motivated by fear of organizational change; lack of commitment to the issue; decreased importance of following through; unrealistic or incorrect views about homosexuality (for example, viewing sexual minority youth as sexual perpetrators or as having a mental disorder); and/or the organizationally supported belief that homosexuality is abnormal.
Creating organizational change to openly support sexual minority youth may be difficult. If this is the case in your organization, consider applying some of the more subtle tips from this article to your own practice. This may help to set an example with colleagues. Even small actions will help integrate, rather than alienate, sexual minority youth into your community program.
The following is a brief overview of the development of sexual orientation. For a more detailed discussion please see the EDIS publicaiton "Understanding Sexual Minority Adolescents" (FY749/FCS9237, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FY749 ):
- LGBT teens may experience confusion at first, feeling different from their peers.
- Next they are likely to explore the possibility that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
- If a teen decides he or she is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, he/she will begin to associate with similiar others
- lastly, LGBT youth will come to accept his/her sexual identity and his/her reference group, taking pride in belonging to a LGBT community.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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