Celebrating and Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth – Responsible Sex Education Institute (RSEI)

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Written by Yesi, RSEI Educator | Published August 15th, 2022

During the last decade, there have been historical moments that have been in favor of the LGBTQ+ community, such as the legalization of marriage equality on June 26, 2015, but this increase in visibility hasn’t always meant equity and liberation for LGBTQ+ youth and adults. As educators and youth-serving adults, we may have become more attuned to the increased anti-LGBTQ legislation and discourse that has been circulating in the media. According to a March 2022 NBC News Article, the number of anti-LGBTQ+ state bills continues to be on the rise. Anti-LGBTQ+ discourse has ranged from making it a felony to provide transgender youth with gender-affirming care, to banning transgender youth in sports, as well as an increase in banning books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. For our blog post this month, we wanted to not only elevate the importance of supporting LGBTQ+ youth but also connect other educators and youth-serving adults with information and resources to support the LGBTQ+ youth and family members of LGBTQ+ youth that you work with. Check out the various question prompts and their answers below!

I want to include more LGBTQ+ books in my library; what are some book recommendations with LGBTQ+ characters and themes?

Whether you are an educator, a parent, or a trusted adult who wants to provide youth of all ages with books to learn about gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, or other LGBTQ+ themes – there are so many options! Sex Positive Families is a great place to explore because you are able to filter by age and topic.

Looking for recommendations for middle and high school youth? The genre of young adult fiction continues to take major strides toward putting out inclusive and intersectional stories that allow LGBTQ+ youth to have their experiences and stories reflected back towards them. For youth of all ages and identities, books can be a great way to learn about yourself and the world around you. Check out this article that was created by AbeBooks that includes their “30 essential LGBTQ+ books for YA readers.”

I keep hearing about “gender-affirming care” for transgender youth, what does that actually mean?

Gender-affirming care can actually mean a few things! According to the World Health Organization, gender-affirming care includes a range of social, psychological, behavioral, and medical supports and treatments “designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity” when it does not (exclusively) align with the gender they were assigned at birth. These supports and treatments–which may include counseling, changes in social/gender expression, and/or medical treatments like hormone therapy– help people, including our LGBTQ+ youth, connect with their gender identity and who they are. To learn more about gender-affirming care, check out this article from AAMC.

How can I make Sex Ed more inclusive to my LGBTQ+ youth?

When talking about sex and sex ed, the conversation needs to be fluid and expansive recognizing that everyone’s sexual relationships and experiences will be different. This may sound like defining sex as different types of touch with oneself or with others. This may look like being expansive when talking about puberty changes; acknowledging that chest and breasts may develop–and some folks may choose to wear a bra, a binder, or nothing depending on choice and comfort level. This may mean explaining what birth control is and also acknowledging that people may use birth control for many reasons: including yes, to prevent pregnancy as well as to regulate or stop a period. This could even include sharing information about the many ways that pregnancy can happen beyond vaginal sex (such as routes like IVF, IUI, etc). LGBTQ+ youth deserve to have complete, medically accurate, and comprehensive sexual health information in order to make the best, informed decisions for themselves.

Further, when talking about the body and sexual health–remove assumptions of gender. For example, when talking about anatomy, focus on the body parts instead of the gender. Consider using language like “person with a vagina” instead of “girl,” or “person with a penis” instead of “boy;” and be sure to acknowledge that some people, youth included, may be intersex–having a variation or combination of both body parts. This allows for the information to be accessible to all, and no assumptions are made. 

As an educator or youth-serving adult, what can I do to better support and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth?

There are many different ways that youth-serving adults can better support and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth! This may look like sharing your pronouns and encouraging others to do the same during introductions. This may look like updating attendance sheets to reflect the desired names for your students. As mentioned above, this may even look like expanding the current curriculum to highlight LGBTQ+ figures and icons in history, within the texts and literature–and even in the movies and films we share. 

Also, think about the culture of your school and work environments. Do you have gender-neutral bathrooms? Is there a Gender-Sexuality Alliance Club? What are the policies when it comes to LGBTQ+ harassment and bullying? Are sports teams and clubs gendered? If unsure, consider asking! These are ways in which youth-serving adults can create a more safe and supportive culture within schools. 

With this in mind, youth-serving adults are tasked with ensuring a school environment is safe and inclusive. This also applies when we hear misinformation or harmful language targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Be the person who interferes and stops homophobic and transphobic comments, both in private and in public, so the responsibility doesn’t solely fall on LGBTQ+ youth. As mentioned, these are only a handful of suggestions compared to the many out there! We encourage you to discuss with coworkers and friends all of the ways to continue supporting LGBTQ+ youth in your communities. 

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