Supporting LGBTQ Youth Who Don’t Conform

For LGBTQ youth, coming out is easier in a compassionate climate. Educators can creatively encourage all students to share messages of support.

In many states, new laws restrict schools from implementing inclusive policies that support LGBTQ+ youth.
These laws create a hostile climate that can be devastating to students and deter them from coming out.
Schools can foster a compassionate climate that encourages all students to be true to their authentic selves.
Although the LGBTQ community has made huge strides in gaining social acceptance and civil rights over the past 50 years, the current climate has turned unexpectedly hostile. From hate crimes targeting individuals who align with queer culture to record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, LGBTQ people are feeling increasingly under attack. In this hostile climate,To understand why an LGBTQ individual can feel so endangered by a hostile climate, pick a physical characteristic you inherited or were born with—perhaps straight hair, large feet, a birthmark, or a gap between your two front teeth. Or think about your unique and preferred self-expression—perhaps being passionate about denim, mathematics, your religion, or moving your body on the dance floor or the soccer field.has just announced that your inborn quality or self-expression indicates that you are bad or unnatural. Imagine that it becomes more acceptable—even trendy—for people to tease,, or shun those who look or behave like you. Sure, your inner circle of family and friends still accepts you. And only one aspect of your whole self is under attack. But this groundswell of rejection stings. YourIncreasingly anxious, you might start protecting yourself from public scorn, perhaps curling your hair, squeezing your feet into smaller shoes, putting makeup on your birthmark, or smiling with your mouth closed. You might feel safer leaving the denim at home or observing your faith in secrecy. You keep mathematics to yourself, give up dancing, or quit playing soccer. Do you feel depleted and discouraged?
Imagine that new laws require schools in your area to remove library books, curriculum, and other materials that acknowledge and feature people like you or interests like yours. Whether your school was an oasis or not, now it’s seeminglyfor it to be a safe place. Imagine being required to deny certain fundamental aspects of yourself. Imagine being expected toto something you’re not. Imagine noticing that this part of yourself has become invisible—unseen, unheard, and unappreciated. Imagine secrets being far safer thanWhen you are judged as inferior, wrong, or unworthy, how do you fight against that, especially when you’re young? Imagine wondering if
When laws require schools and educators to neglect and disrespect the needs of LGBTQ students, the resulting messages are powerful. Neglect sends the message, “You don’t exist.” Disrespect sends the message, “You are not valued.” It can be devastating for all students and demoralizing for educators to live in a society that mandates schools to mistreat certain students. Not surprisingly, among LGBTQ youth,How can we make sense of this LGBTQ-hostile climate and why is it going viral? Research on the impulse to enforcenorms would suggest that powerful individuals (such as politicians, influencers, and media personalities) can create a hostile climate by spreading anti-LGTBQ rhetoric and introducing legislation to satisfy their own impulses to enforce gender andnorms. Other individuals can see and hear these messages and are emboldened to act on their own impulses to enforce these norms, which reinforces this hostile climate and spreads it far and wide.Legal enforcement of gender and sexuality norms gives young people a clear message that they’d best conform to the idea that”boys will be boys, and boys want to kiss girls.” LGTBQ youth who are struggling to conform will naturally think that if they can just pretend to “fit in,” they won’t be bullied or shunned. Unfortunately, pretending makes them feel dishonest, invisible, and unsupported while submitting to social pressures decreases self-respect. Some kids may try to conform in an attempt to feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, conforming means they are internalizing society’s hostile message and forging a false self, which makes them feel worse about their true selves.has a profound effect on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The antidote is self-compassion, which is cultivated in a compassionate climate.Demonstrating the essence of compassionate support is more important than ever for LGTBQ youth. This doesn’t require or even necessarily encourage imperiled youth to come out, but by seeing others acknowledge and celebrate the process, they are encouraged to ponder the possibilities for themselves. Today is National LGBTQ Day, honoring it recognizes those who have come out before them and gives youth a hopeful vision of a future in which they can be and express every part of their authentic selves.Research shows that being honest and true to oneself improves all aspects of well-being, including relationships with others. While many teens especiallycoming out to parents (and yes, some will be rejected), many are pleasantly surprised, and others are relieved to discover that acceptance improves over time. Naturally, coming out is far easier in a compassionate climate.How can schools forge a compassionate climate? Phillips Exeter Academy, a private school in New Hampshire, has implemented a tradition that serves all students. A white, open door in a stand-alone door frame is placed outdoors, in a central part of the campus. Colored, indelible markers are included for students to write compassionate, encouraging words to their classmates. Messages include,“Be who you are. For your pride, don’t hide.”Note that these messages can speak to every student and encourage the practice of self-compassion. Even if your school is located in a fiercely anti-LGTBQ state, there are no laws against having students and faculty write encouraging messages that promote self-compassion and can apply to everyone.
Indeed, the vast majority of kids are at times self-conscious, self-critical, or embarrassed, or have been teased about some aspect of themselves—parts of their being, their self-expression, or their appearance. Being encouraged to show compassion to each other and to receive those supportive messages can create a compassionate, accepting school climate, which can boost emotional, physical, and social well-being for everyone. Students and teachers alike.LGBTQ media expert Robert Conner suggests that schools “celebrate LGBTQ History Month and National Coming Out Day through campus events, assemblies, and disseminating resources such as biographies of LGBTQ icons from
Franklin, K. Inside the Mind of People Who Hate Gays. Excerpted from: Unassuming Motivations: Contextualizing the Narratives of Antigay Assailants in Gregory M. Herek, Ed., 2016 Dec;63(6):1011-1025. doi: 10.1016/j.pcl.2016.07.005. PMID: 27865331; PMCID: Trevor Project 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGTBQ Young People. Accessed October 3, 2023 at https://Margolin, J. & Grant, T. Threats against the LGBTQIA+ community intensifying: Department of Homeland Security. ABC News, May 15, 2023. Accessed October 4, 2023 atAs the lines between real and fake blur, Americans increasingly chase the idea of authenticity. The first step may be to consider self-knowledge, truthfulness, and other building blocks on the road to personal growth.

Source: PsychToday