In light of the hardships we know a lot of gay teens face, adult family, friends, teachers, community members and GLBT allies often want to know what they can do to help GLBT teens. Here are some important ways to offer support.
- Don't work out your own feelings with a GLBT teen who has come out to you. You might have a lot of thoughts and feelings about a GLBT teen who you are close to, but try to work through what you are feelings with other adults, no with the kid. You may think a teen needs to come out (see item 2), join a GSA, or feel totally comfortable talking to you. The teen in question might feel really differently. Conversely, you might be surprised to find yourself uncomfortable with the news that a teen you are close to is gay. That is pretty normal, and it can take time for people to take in such news and accept it. But this is your issue. In any case, a great way to show a teen you support him or her is to get involved with a group like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
- Don't encourage a kid to come out who isn't ready. Coming out is a big deal and while it can be great for a lot of teens to come out, other kids feel pressure to come out before they are emotionally ready to handle the outcome. Many people believe that the more people come out, the more gay life is "normalized" to the general public. While this is true in many ways, it is also not fair to expect teens to dive into this cause if doing so could cause harm.
- Speak out against anti-gay groups, politicians and entertainers, and don't maintain membership in homophobic religious organizations. Religion often gets a "pass" when promoting homophobia. Indeed, the majority of the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-gay hate groups are religiously motivated. Not only is it torturous for a GLBT teen to have to sit through homophobic sermons, when we don't condemn hated, it is allowed to flourish.
- Help kids know their legal rights and how to fight for them. If a teen goes to a public school in the United States, he or she is allowed to bring a same sex date to prom, cannot be barred from starting a gay / straight alliance if a school allows other clubs, should be able to access educational websites on GLBT issues, and is entitled to a harassment free environment, even if a state does not specifically ban anti-gay bullying. Sadly, these laws get broken all the time. But a big way to help ensure that GLBT teens rights are upheld is to have adults speak up on their behalf. Another way is to involve an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union which fights for the rights of gay teens.
- Support comprehensive sex education. This covers a range of issues related to sexuality and discusses sexual orientation. This is important for a lot of reasons including the fact that a study by GLSEN found that at schools where abstinence-only education is taught, GLBT students are more likely to have experienced verbal harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, and were more likely to have missed school in the past year because they felt unsafe.
Adults often want to help GLBT teens. That's how great organizations like the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project got started. But as the suggestions above show, there are plenty of ways to help GLBT teens that that don't have to have a huge reach to have their effects felt.