News Creating safer spaces for LGBTQ youth & families

Nearly 20 Providers’ Council members attended a recent workshop at the Council’s Learning Center last month designed to help them create culturally responsive policies and practices to positively impact lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and queer (LGBTQ) young people and their families.

LGBTQ youth face disproportionate rates of harassment and mistreatment in their schools and communities, according to according to presenter Colby Swettberg, former director of LGBTQ services at the Home for Little Wanderers. Consequently, LGBTQ youth are at much higher risk for mental health challenges, substance abuse, homelessness, truancy and other risky behaviors.

At the same time, professionals who are working with youth and families — however accepting they may feel on a personal level —  are often not adequately prepared to manage the challenges faced by the youth and their families in schools and social service settings, Swettberg said.

Young people are coming out as LGBT younger than ever before, research shows. In the 1980s, the average age was 21, while today the average age of self-identification is 13.4 years old. There are far more resources for discussion and exploration in middle school and transgender youth are increasingly self-identifying in elementary and middle school, Swettberg said.

Some tips Swettberg offered human service providers for making their agencies more welcoming places for LGBTQ youth include: using the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (or LGBTQ) more often; using a person’s chosen name and pronouns; and post something LGBTQ related in a visible place in the office or classrooms, such as posters, books, stickers, articles, etc.

Swettberg also offered a list of tips for agencies that wish to create safer spaces for LQBTQ youth:

  • Challenge gender norms/stereotypes: Remove gender from descriptors (such as firefighter, police officer, flight attendant, mail carrier, person with the glasses) and challenge assumptions.
  • Include pronouns in introductions: At start of new classes or in meetings, say: “Please introduce yourself by sharing your name, your grade, and the pronouns you’d like us to use…”
  • Update organizational policies: Ensure that your organization’s policies on harassment and non-discrimination include sexual orientation and gender identity & expression
  • Use inclusive language: partner, significant other, parents, people/folks, kids/young people/students, instead of husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, mom/dad, ladies/gentlemen.
  • Have support options: Host ongoing staff training on LGBTQ youth issues and identify where/to whom staff can go for support when LGBTQ related issues arise.
  • Create groups or committees: Start a Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) or other safe space specifically for LGBTQ youth

More resources for creating a safer space at your organization for LGBTQ youth can be found at

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