Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychosocial development. As youth develop, they are typically informed by and supported by their peers. Experimentation, exploration, and risk characterize adolescence, and many engage in high-risk behaviors during this time. Beyond the impulsive, risk-taking nature of adolescents their budding identity is being shaped as well. This is often a difficult and exciting time of exploration but can be even more difficult for a self-identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) adolescent. While all teens are at risk to some degree, LGBTQ students are at a higher risk by the very nature of their orientation.
The following are just some of the reasons that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk than the average student:
Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBTQ Youth
LGBTQ youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert their independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of self-esteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders. However, LGBTQ youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation. As a result, they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex attraction/feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule and antigay violence.
Stigma, Identity, and Risk
LGBTQ students have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning how to manage a stigmatized identity. This extra burden puts LGBTQ youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide. This is even more true when there are compounding intersections such as; being a minority, having a disability, etc.
Abuse and Homelessness
LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for antigay violence such as bullying (which is really peer assault and harassment), verbal, emotional, and social abuse. Anti-gay attacks heighten an adolescent’s feeling of vulnerability, intensifies their inner conflict, and typically drives them further into isolation, reinforcing their sexual identity.
*Homelessness is a particular concern for LGBTQ youth, because many teens may run away as a result of harassment and abuse from family members or peers who disapprove of the sexual orientation. Still others may be thrown out of the home when their parents learn they are gay. Like their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth have many health and social problems, including mental health problems, high risk for suicide, and STDs (including being at high risk for HIV/AIDS).
*excerpts taken from SAMHSA: A Providers Instruction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals
So my question is this…
How can the church (and our youth ministries) be Good News to these precious kids that are at such a high risk?
2 thoughts on “Being Good News to LGBTQ Students”
Shortly after beginning to follow my call as a youth minister, I was told by one of my older students (18) that she was struggling with gender identity (in other words, she felt her whole life that she should have been a boy). Ever since that time, we have had constant, open discussions about it in which I realized that I was one of the only ones who would give her an unconditional ear. She knows what scripture says about homosexuality, so I didn’t feel any need to bombard her with it. Instead, I gave her love and always reminded her of a God who doesn’t make mistakes, created her in His image, and wants us to live for far more than our sexual identity. Our conversations have been a wrestling with how that fits into her situation, and we find ourselves asking each other deep questions rather than providing false hope in fluffy answers. Overall, I believe our LGBTQ students need someone who will listen to them, love them, and constantly remind them how loved they are by Jesus no matter what they are going through.
I’m sorry that I left out a crucial element, but I have also been supporting and helping her find affordable counseling in order to speak to a professional about her gender identity. We can’t shy away from the benefits of professional counseling in order to give our students more people around them to support and encourage them.